Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 22, 2009

What kind of party do we need?

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 4:20 pm

I received a query prompted by my annotated Lenin bibliography:

I read with interest your views on the type of new party needed.

I have a few questions I hope you can answer.

What role if any do you see for party press? Traditional newspaper? If the party doesn’t take positions on historical questions what does it fill its press with? What does it do when confronted with the issues of Stalin, Mao, etc.? How would the party raise funds? What would be the practical, day-to-day work of its members?

Do you consider this model valid solely in the United States?

Do you see a need for a new international? If so, what kind of body do you see and how would it come about?

Your attention is appreciated.

1. On the party press:

There will always be a need for printed material, but it is becoming clearer day by day that the epoch of the printed newspaper is coming to an end. The Internet is not only more economical; it also provides a lot more flexibility than the traditional newspaper. For example, it eliminates the need to have writers occupying the same physical office space. With the ever-increasing sophistication of tools like Skype, it will make online editorial meetings more feasible.

I do think there is a need for party newspapers to take up historical questions, such as Stalin versus Trotsky, but they are best reserved for the back pages. I think that Solidarity, for all its other faults, figured this out pretty well in their founding statement:

There is another, more subtle error which has exacerbated the tendency toward splintering of the revolutionary left.  We believe that it is a mistake today to organize revolutionary groups around precise theories of the Russian revolution.  We want to be clear about what this means.

Precision, clarity and rigor are the highest of virtues in developing theory and historical analysis; however, lines of political demarcation do not flow in a mechanical and linear way from differences of theoretical interpretation.  Such an approach leads to unnecessary hothoused debates on issues where long-term discussion would be more in order.  It also contributes to the dynamics of factionalism and splits, which in any case have been too high owing to our history of misassessing the political realities of our own society.

In seeking to overcome this negative legacy, our new organization brings together currents and individuals with a variety of views on theoretical and historical questions, from the interpretation of the Russian Revolution and its leadership to the struggle in Central America today.  We will carry on discussion and mutual education, making no public pretense of monolithism and seeking to learn from each other’s views.

2. How would the party raise funds

Leaving aside the technical questions of using something like Paypal, I think the most important element will be reconfiguring membership financial obligations in line with relaxed norms. My experience in the SWP, and I suppose it is true for other “democratic centralist” formations although probably to a lesser degree, is that a tightly disciplined membership shelling out up to 60 dollars a week is the wrong way to go. It begins to take on the dimensions of a religious sect tithing its members. It would be far better to make it easier for ordinary people with families and debt to join if party dues were in line with the average membership organization. You would make up for a smaller per capita donation with increased membership. Instead of having 400 people paying 40 dollars a week, as like the case with the SWP today, you would have 4000 people paying 10 dollars a week. When you do the math, you realize that there would be more money coming in after all.

3. Day-to-day work

The tendency today for “democratic centralist” organizations is to have a national convention that outlines tasks for “the coming period” as we used to put it. I no longer think that this is a valid approach. A revolutionary party must emerge out of the mass movement, which means accepting activists on their own terms rather than looking at party members as chess pieces to be moved around on a board. For example, if a new party was formed in the next year or so under the impact of a radicalization induced by financial crisis, it should open its doors to people who have been involved in anti-foreclosure movements, trade union activists fighting to implement EFCA (if it can get passed despite the lukewarm support of the DP), immigrant rights activists, etc. In other words, whatever people are currently doing they should continue to do. This is the only way that the party can accurately reflect the existing mass movement and not try to substitute it with its own ready-made solutions. The main need for a revolutionary party is to coordinate all those struggling against capitalism on a class struggle basis. Fundamentally, this was the orientation laid out by Lenin in “What is to be done” and remains valid today.

4. Is this a US-only model

I don’t think so. In fact, as I have pointed out, my ideas were borrowed from Peter Camejo who arrived at them through a study of the Cuban revolutionary movement, as well as the FSLN and FMLN during the 1980s. I would urge you to look at Roger Burbach and Orlando Nunez’s “Fire in the Americas: Forging a Revolutionary Age”, a book that is now out of print but fairly easy to get your hands on. (Amazon.com has a couple of used copies.) Burbach, who like Peter had lived in Nicaragua, tried to imagine what a Sandinista-type party would look like in the U.S. I understand that the FSLN of today is not the party it was in the 1980s, but a study of Burbach’s book as well as the FSLN of that period is worthwhile.

5. On a new international

I think a new international will be very useful, but I don’t think that the pyramid structure of the Third or Fourth Internationals will be very useful. Although the Marxism mailing list I moderate is certainly not the embryo of a new international, I and just about every other subscriber greatly value having exchanges between comrades from every corner of the world.

Finally, although I am not really in the business of prescribing in any kind of detail what a revolutionary organization should look like, I did take a stab at a kind of “what if” exercise in which the SWP shifted toward the kind of paradigm I favor. It is written as a speech that party leader Jack Barnes would have given to an SWP convention in 1974:

The Speech that Jack Barnes Should Have Given in 1974

Comrades, 1974 is a year which in some ways marks the end of an era. The recent victory of the Vietnamese people against imperialism and of women seeking the right to safe and legal abortion are culminations of a decade of struggle. That struggle has proved decisive in increasing both the size and influence of the Trotskyist movement as our cadre threw their energy into building the antiwar and feminist movements. Now that we are close to 2,000 in number and have branches in every major city in the US, it is necessary to take stock of our role within the left and our prospects for the future.

In this report I want to lay out some radical new departures for the party that take into account both our growing influence and the changing political framework. Since they represent such a change from the way we have seen ourselves historically, I am not asking that we take a vote at this convention but urge all branches to convene special discussions throughout the year until the next convention when a vote will be taken. I am also proposing in line with the spirit of this new orientation that non-party individuals and organizations be invited to participate in them.

A) THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT

While our political work of the 1960s was a necessary “detour” from the historical main highway of the socialist movement, it is high time that we began to reorient ourselves. There are increasing signs that the labor movement is beginning to reject the class collaborationist practices of the Meany years. For example, just 4 short years ago in 1970, various Teamsters locals rejected a contract settlement agreed to by their president Frank Fitzsimmons and the trucking industry. They expected a $3.00 per hour raise but the contract settled for only $1.10. The rank and file went out on a wildcat strike that Fitzsimmons and the mainstream press denounced. Fitzsimmons probably had the student revolt on his mind, since he claimed that “Communists” were behind the teamster wild-cat strike. Nobody took this sort of red-baiting to heart anymore. The burly truck-drivers involved in the strike were the unlikeliest “Communists” one could imagine. The trucking industry prevailed upon President Richard Nixon to intercede in the strike at the beginning of May, but the student rebellion against the invasion of Cambodia intervened. The antiwar movement and the war itself had stretched the US military thin. National guardsmen who had been protecting scab truck- drivers occupied the Kent State campuses where they shot five students protesting the war. In clear defiance of the stereotype of American workers, wildcat strikers in Los Angeles regarded student antiwar protesters as allies and invited them to join teamster picket lines. The wildcat strikes eventually wound down, but angry rank and file teamsters started the first national reform organization called Teamsters United Rank and File (TURF).

It is very important for every branch to investigate opportunities such as these and to invite comrades to look into the possibility of taking jobs in those industries where such political opportunities exist. What will not happen, however, is a general turn toward industry that many small Marxist groups made in the 1960s in an effort to purify themselves. Our work in the trade unions is not an attempt to “cleanse” the party but rather to participate in the class struggle which takes many different forms. We are quite sure that when comrades who have begun to do this kind of exciting work and report back to the branches that we will see others anxious to join in.

B) THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

We simply have to stop observing this movement from the sidelines. There is a tendency on the left to judge it by the traditional middle-class organizations such as the Audubon Club. There are already signs of a radicalization among many of the younger activists who believe that capitalism is at the root of air and water pollution, etc. Since the father of the modern environmental movement is an outspoken Marxist, there is no reason why we should feel like outsiders. Our cadre have to join the various groups that are springing up everywhere and pitch in to build them, just as we built the antiwar and feminist groups. If activists have problems with the record of socialism on the environment based on the mixed record of the USSR, we have to explain that there were alternatives. We should point to initiatives in the early Soviet Union when Lenin endorsed vast nature preserves on a scale never seen in industrialized societies before. In general we have to be the best builders of a new ecosocialist movement and not succumb to the sort of sectarian sneering that characterizes other left groups who regard green activists as the enemy.

C) THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST MOVEMENT

This will strike many comrades as controversial, but I want to propose that we probably were mistaken when stood apart from all the various pro-NLF committees that were doing material aid and educational work. We characterized them as ultraleft, whereas in reality those activists who decided to actually identify with the Vietnamese liberation movement were exactly the kind that we want to hook up with. In the United States today there are thousands of activists organized in committees around the country who are campaigning on a similar basis for freedom for the Portuguese colonies in Africa, against neo-colonialism in Latin America, etc. Nearly all of them are Marxist. Their goals and ours are identical. While we have had a tendency to look down our noses at them because many of the insurgencies they were supporting were not Trotskyist, we have to get over that. For us to continue to regard the revolutionary movement in a Manichean fashion where the Trotskyists are the good forces and everybody else is evil is an obstacle not only to our own growth, but the success of the revolutionary movement overall. This leads me to the next point.

D) RELATIONS WITH THE REST OF THE LEFT

One of the things I hope never to hear again in our ranks is the reference to other socialists as our “opponents”. Let’s reflect on what that kind of terminology means. It says two things, both of which are equally harmful. On one hand, it means that they are our enemies on a permanent basis. When you categorize another left group in this fashion, it eliminates the possibility that they can change. This obviously is not Marxist, since no political group–including ourselves–is immune from objective conditions. Groups can shift to the left or to the right, depending on the relationship of class forces. The SWP emerged out of a merger with other left-moving forces during the 1930s and we should be open to that possibility today.

The other thing that this reflects is that somehow the SWP is like a small business that competes for market share with other small businesses, except that we are selling revolution rather than air conditioners or aluminum siding. We have to get that idea out of our heads. We are all struggling for the same goal, which is to change American society. We only disagree on the best way to achieve that.

Unfortunately we have tended to exaggerate our differences with other small groups in such a way as to suggest we had a different product. This goes back for many years as indicated in this quote from a James P. Cannon speech to the SWP convention nearly 25 years ago. “We are monopolists in the field of politics. We can’t stand any competition. We can tolerate no rivals. The working class, to make the revolution can do it only through one party and one program. This is the lesson of the Russian Revolution. That is the lesson of all history since the October Revolution. Isn’t that a fact? This is why we are out to destroy every single party in the field that makes any pretense of being a working-class revolutionary party. Ours is the only correct program that can lead to revolution. Everything else is deception, treachery We are monopolists in politics and we operate like monopolists.”

Comrades, we have to conduct an open and sharp struggle against this kind of attitude. The differences between the SWP and many other left groups is not that great and we have to figure out ways to work with them on a much more cooperative basis. For example, La Raza Unida Party in Texas shares many of our assumptions about the 2-party system and they are open to socialist ideas, largely through the influence of the left-wing of the party which has been increasingly friendly to the Cuban Revolution. We should think about the possibilities of co-sponsoring meetings with them around the question of Chicano Liberation and socialism. The same thing would be true of the Puerto Rican Independence movement in the United States, which shares with us a positive attitude toward the Cuban revolution. In terms of the Marxist movement per se, we have to find ways to work more closely with the activists around the Guardian newspaper. While many of them continue to have Maoist prejudices, there are others who have been friendly to our work in the antiwar movement. The idea is to open discussion and a sure way to cut discussion off is to regard them as “opponents”. Our only true opponents are in Washington, DC.

This new sense of openness to other groups on the left has organizational consequences that I will now outline.

E) REDEFINING OUR ORGANIZATIONAL PRINCIPLES

Much of our understanding of “democratic centralism” has been shaped by James P. Cannon’s writings. Although the notion of 500 to 1500 people united ideologically around a homogenous program has a lot to recommend itself, it can only go so far in building a revolutionary party. This was Cannon’s contribution. He showed how a small band of cadre dedicated to Trotsky’s critique of Stalin could emerge as a serious force on the American left.

Although this will sound like heresy to most of you, I want to propose that Cannon’s writings are a roadblock to further growth, especially in a period when Stalinism is not a hegemonic force. In reality, Lenin’s goal was to unite Russian Marxism, which existed in scattered circles. Our goal should be identical. Despite our commitment to Trotsky’s theories, we are not interested in constructing a mass Trotskyist movement. That would be self-defeating. Many people who are committed to Marxism are not necessarily committed to Trotsky’s analysis of the Spanish Civil War, WWII, etc. We should take the same attitude that Lenin took toward the Russian left at the turn of the century. We should serve as a catalyst for uniting Marxists on a national basis.

Are we afraid to function in a common organization with Castroists, partisans of the Chinese Revolution, independent Marxists of one sort or another? Not at all. We should not put a barrier in the way of unity with the tens of thousands of Marxists in the United States, many who hold leading positions in the trade union and other mass movements. The only unity that interests us is the broad unity of the working people and their allies around class struggle principles. Our disagreements over historical and international questions can be worked out in a leisurely fashion in the party press. In fact we would encourage public debates over how to interpret such questions in our press, since they can make us even more attractive to people investigating which group to join. It is natural that you would want to join a group with a lively internal life.

This question of ‘democratic centralism’ has to be thoroughly reviewed. Although the Militant will be running a series of articles on “Lenin in Context” this year, which explores the ways in which this term was understood by the Bolsheviks and then transformed by his epigones, we can state with some assuredness right now that it was intended to govern the actions of party members and not their thoughts. The Bolshevik Party, once it voted on a strike, demonstration, etc., expected party members to function under the discipline of the party to build such actions. It never intended to discipline party members to defend the same political analysis in public. We know, for example, that there are different interpretations of Vietnamese Communism in our party. We should not expect party members to keep their views secret if they are in the minority. This is not only unnatural–it leads to cult thinking.

F) CONCLUSION

As many of these proposals seem radically different from the principles we’ve operated on in the past, I want to make sure that all disagreements–especially from older cadre who worked side by side with James P. Cannon–are given proper consideration. The last thing we want is to railroad the party into accepting this new orientation. Since a revolution can only be made by the conscious intervention of the exploited and oppressed masses into the historical process, its party must encourage the greatest expression of conscious political decision-making. There are no shortcuts to a revolution. And there are no shortcuts to building a revolutionary party.

31 Comments »

  1. “Since the father of the modern environmental movement is an outspoken Marxist, there is no reason why we should feel like outsiders. ”

    To whom are you (or Jack Barnes) referring here?

    Comment by Sheldon — March 22, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

  2. Barry Commoner

    Comment by louisproyect — March 22, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  3. Thanks for the response but I’m afraid some things weren’t answered with the clarity I was hoping for.

    If historical questions go in the back pages what goes in the front pages?

    Does this party organize around some sort of regularly published press or website or does it simply print leaflets and/or make statements on a website when it deems necessary. What use is the internet in countries outside of the imperialist world where the far majority has no access to the internet?

    What are new members instructed to “do”? People join a revolutionary organization and say “now what?”. In this new party, are they told to do the same things people have been doing since 1917 (distributing literature, trying to win union elections, running in bourgeois elections, giving stump speeches) or do new methods of work come along with new forms of organization?

    What is the main recruitment strategy? Approach leaders of environmental and immigrant struggles and ask them to join?

    Sorry for all the questions but I’m interested and trying to understand your views on this completely. Sort of you drawing up a mock up of a membership handbook for this new party I can see no other way of finding out all the details.

    Thanks a lot for your response comrade.

    Comment by VROT — March 22, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

  4. Q: If historical questions go in the back pages what goes in the front pages?

    A: The same sort of thing you would see in all the party press, from the ISO to WSWS. Trade union struggles, peace movement activity, analysis of the financial crisis, etc. I don’t see what else would go there.

    Q: Does this party organize around some sort of regularly published press or website or does it simply print leaflets and/or make statements on a website when it deems necessary. What use is the internet in countries outside of the imperialist world where the far majority has no access to the internet?

    A: I think that a weekly (or daily) newspaper would be complemented by print leaflets. In countries where Internet access is limited, there is obviously no substitute for printed material. Period.

    Q: What are new members instructed to “do”? People join a revolutionary organization and say “now what?”. In this new party, are they told to do the same things people have been doing since 1917 (distributing literature, trying to win union elections, running in bourgeois elections, giving stump speeches) or do new methods of work come along with new forms of organization?

    A: I don’t see the issue as being one of new work but a new way of doing work. For example, “democratic centralism” requires members to speak in one voice but I think this fosters cultish tendencies. Within the general framework of the broad agreement that the party is based on, members can express various views on a whole range of questions, particularly of a historical and international nature. The main obligation of a membership is to accept the discipline of the party on *actions*, like strikes, demonstrations, votes in elected bodies, etc. When I was in the SWP, gay members were blocked from stating their own views on the “gay is good” debate in the party which had concluded with the majority disallowing that slogan. That is not the way a party should be organized. It should provide a platform for all sorts of opinions *within Marxism*.

    Q: What is the main recruitment strategy? Approach leaders of environmental and immigrant struggles and ask them to join?

    A: I think it is a good idea to get rid of the “recruitment” approach. Joining a revolutionary organization should simply be a matter of filling out a form and paying some kind of initiation fee, not the sort of nonsense I went through in the Young Socialist Alliance, where I was “evaluated” for six months before being invited to join the SWP.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 22, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

  5. Impossible to find disagreements with that speech, except for the fact that Jack Barne’s is organically incapable of wrapping his brain around such Leninist ideas.

    It’d be a fascinating novel to write, & you, Proyect, have the prosaic talent & historical skills to pull it off, albeit not the time I’m sure.

    The story would begin perhaps with the main character being a revolutionary reporter akin to John Reed who sat in on that speech with tape recorder in hand & then translated it, analysed it & reported on how over time it significantly transformed the Party for the better & as a result, the whole left movement with it.

    Instead of the Reagan reaction and the nation’s odious rightward lurch, vast left coalition building promted by that speech became instrumental in actually marching the nation quickly to the left to the point where Uncle Sam’s kept his hands off Nicaragua, El Salvador & the host of other struggles that were occuring then & continue to embroil the globe.

    I’m tempted to write it myself but unfortunately it’d have to be in collaboration with somebody possessing a more advanced & sophisticated command of history (like Proyect) than I.

    Now Louis. Please skip to where after half a decade of heretofore undreamt of poltical success, so much so that we were able to actually make, say, the lives of the Sandinistas objectively easier with the Party’s bold & innovative turn — we next find ourselves confronted with the spectre of the Red Army unleashing armored mobile water cannons on Polish strikers.

    What would the speech to this enormous radicalized left movement that’s been unleashed look like then? How would our Socialist Party candidate we’d certainly be running in the 1980 election respond to our base’s & the media’s demand we clarify our views on Lech Walesa & the Solidarnosk phenomena?

    Surely a repackaging of the SWP’s 1956 (Hungary) & 1968 (Czeckoslovakia) formulations will not suffice?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 22, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

  6. “What kind of party do we need?”

    My answer to this question for me living in California, lies in the California based Peace and Freedom Party. I am just now changing my Green Party voter registration to the Peace and Freedom Party.

    “The Peace and Freedom Party is an open, multi-tendency, movement-oriented socialist party. We are united in our common commitment to socialism, democracy, feminism and unionism and our common opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, sexism and elitism.”

    Even though a long-time reader of WSWS, I have decided that the Socialist Equality Party(SEP), with traditional Trotskyist exclusionary organizational Principles (democratic centralism, development of “leaders”, not a “parliamentary” party, etc.) is not what is needed in
    the US today in 2009.

    The PFP can develop a Socialist Transitional Program that is not a capitalist “reformist” (Green) program. The “open” character of the PFP invites the many “single-issue” groups to make the PFP the party to fulfill it’s particular agendas of filling people’s needs.

    Without an end to capitalism, there can be no end to wars (for oil and profit), no end to global warming (profitable polluters protected), no affordable national health insurance (private profit maintained), privatization continues (public education further destroyed). etc.

    Capitalism (U.S, and globally) is unwilling and unable to reduce profit to supply the it’s employees with “living wage” jobs or benefits, let alone be taxed to support the vast and essential needs of society. In relentless pursuit to maximize profit, capitalism intrinsically must destroy humanity and exterminate the natural environment to survive.

    The corrupt bankruptcy of Obama and the Democratic Party is obvious. But so is the Green Party, Nader, “progressive” bailouts, or “quick fixes” to even long lists of “single-issue” symptoms of failed capitalism.

    Thus an essential task of any socialist movement or party must be to massively promote a socialist consciousness and agenda in opposition to run-amok gangster capitalism.

    For most working people, “single-issue” activists, the idea of a socialist alternative is perhaps only now (almost a generation after the collapse of the USSR) just becoming possible … and necessary… to seriously consider.

    The symptoms of the collapse of capitalism is now having various and often extreme consequences to our personal lives and family.

    Without a mass socialist political alternative we can expect little but impoverishment, unending wars, and implementation of fascistic martial law even in the U.S. to suppress the inevitable “civil disorder”.

    Comment by Jerry Wells — March 22, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party here in California as well Jerry. I’m currently registered Green but I’m looking at Peace and Freedom because the powerful ‘fusionist’ current of the Green Party seems to only want the GP to be a small marginal pressure group to influence the Democratic Party and refuses to engage in fully independent politics. Peter Camejo seemed to have moved from the GP to the PFP at the end of his life for this very reason. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M7iVFz8FUc I was ‘recruited’ by the late Walt Sheasby to join the Green Alliance, which was to be a promising radical Left current within the Green Party of the US similar to the interesting Green Left group in the Green Party of England and Whales. But after Walt’s tragic death in 2004, the Green Alliance sort of faded away. So I’m still waiting to see if the Green Party is going to move toward a more radical politics that is truly independent of the two party system. But in the meantime, I’ve got my eye on Peace and Freedom. In any case, this fucking country needs a real independent left wing socialist party so god damn bad.

    Comment by Tim — March 23, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

  8. “Q: If historical questions go in the back pages what goes in the front pages?

    Proyect: The same sort of thing you would see in all the party press, from the ISO to WSWS. Trade union struggles, peace movement activity, analysis of the financial crisis, etc. I don’t see what else would go there.”

    Right on! The comrades of Proyect’s party, you see, can carry out the WSWS line – i.e. block with the employer’s campaign to keep unions out, AND the ISO line, to bring a union in!

    Proyect’s party would protect everyone’s freedom to choose!

    That pretty much describes the ‘position’ of Solidarity on any given issue, with the added benefit that none of their members need to take responsibility for anything that appears in their press. Do they defend Cuba, or solidarize with the ‘democratic socialist’ gusanos in Miami? Troops to Darfur, or hands off Sudan?

    With the Proyect Squeezed-Lemon Socialist Party you can have both – and everything in between!

    Only a blind Cannonite sectarian hairsplitter could fail to see the benefits of joining the ‘revolutionary’ PSLP!

    Comment by Red Cloud — March 23, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

  9. Red Cloud, just out of curiosity, have you ever really made an attempt to compare your idea of a “vanguard” party to that of the historical Bolshevik party? You really don’t have much to offer on the organization question but instead want to talk program, like “keeping the unions out”, etc. I don’t imagine that you have given a moment’s thought to what people like Lars Lih have written, have you? I expect that you have as much interest in such scholarship as a monkey has in the French novel.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 24, 2009 @ 12:20 am

  10. “With the Proyect Squeezed-Lemon Socialist Party you can have both – and everything in between!
    Only a blind Cannonite sectarian hairsplitter could fail to see the benefits of joining the ‘revolutionary’ PSLP!”

    Should be “PSLSP” shouldn’t it?

    Comment by belgish — March 24, 2009 @ 12:52 am

  11. I find Louis Proyect to be a very interesting fellow, indeed. And since dart throwing has been perfected to an art form on the various blogs that cater to mostly middle-aged (not that there is anything wrong with being middle-aged) socialists and radicals, I must insist here and now that I am being completely forthright. Not only does he have a first rate intellect, but also a great sense of humor that I enjoy very much, mainly because it approximates my own, a commanding grasp of current events, years of practical experience (unfortunately, we have never met, since he was leaving the SWP the very year I entered it) and a masterful command of Marxian theory; gifts that most of us can only dream of. I wasn’t a bad revolutionary perhaps, but was, for the most part, rather average. So I think you can understand why I find it puzzling that Louis seems to agree with many core politcal postions of the SWP, a trend that has become even more acclerated in the past six months as the economic melt-down draws a sharp relief. I offer as evidence two examples: his attitude towards the Obama campaign and his chracterization of the Cuban revolution, but there are many other examples, as well. He certainly seems to be closer to the SWP than the vast majority of his interlockers on the Marxism List. However he reacts, as you may have noticed once or twice, quite severly to the party’s organizational norms, which he finds to be counter-productive and undemocratic. My question is, how could the SWP have been right about so many political positions over these many years — from the Vietnam anti-war movement, Malcolm X, the fight for democratic rights, Cuba, etc… — and be so horribly wrong about the kind of party is needed?

    Comment by dave — March 24, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

  12. Dave asks: “…how could the SWP have been right about so many political positions over these many years …. and be so horribly wrong about the kind of party is needed?”

    Aside from Cuba, Malcolm X (and a few other struggles) Louis actually does NOT think that Trotskyists in general & the SWP in particular have been right on very many critical positions after the Revolution Betrayed was written.

    Partly, he argues, it’s Trotsky’s fault for allowing cultism & sectarianism to take hold in the 4th International during his lifetime.

    In the fictional speech above, for example, he doesn’t think they were right adopting Cannonism in the late 30s.

    As far as SWP politics over the decades — we’re they right in 1956 (Hungary) or 1968 (Checkoslovakia)?

    How right were they really during Vietnam? They got bodies in the street to be sure but they were against the chant: “Ho, Ho Ho Chi Min — the NLF is gonna win” because the NLF were “Stalinists”.

    Nevermind neither the average class conscious worker nor YSA recruit could distinguish the difference between the victory parties of Fidel & Ho.

    What about when the socialist leadership in Kabul pleaded with the Soviets to send in troops to stop the mullah-like warlords? Was it an act of “imperialism” as the commercial press was screaming or was there something else at work, something that could only be understood by correctly analysing the class character of the USSR itself? Obviously it wasn’t “defensive” like occupying East Europe.

    Of course nobody but Barnes himself thinks that the SWP’s analysis of the Iranian Revolution was anything but a monstrous absurdity.

    As the skeleton of the novel described in my last comment above suggests, what is the correct line on Lech Walensa & Solidarnosk — or is that unimportant?

    How about 9 years later when a dozen students were killed at Tiannamen Square (and to this day the commercial press repeats the myth that “thousands” were killed.) How do you formulate a line about world events that doesn’t advance the interests of imperialism?

    Finally, what about the analysis of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact? There Barne’s articulated another monstrous absurdity — that West Germany was still a workers’ state for years after the Soviet collapse — and may even still be one today!

    Louis articulates the view that it’s bad for a socialist party to “split over how to interpret events in distant countries” (1998). The problem, however, is that these splits loom with each new global crisis, for example, as Red Cloud points out above: “Do they defend Cuba, or solidarize with the ‘democratic socialist’ gusanos in Miami? Troops to Darfur, or hands off Sudan?”

    Imperialist turpitude inevitably foists upon a revolutionary party these kinds of questions. Lars Lih’s correct reading of “What is to be Done” may be necessary for navigating these obstacles — but not sufficient to overcome them.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 25, 2009 @ 12:17 am

  13. “Of course nobody but Barnes himself thinks that the SWP’s analysis of the Iranian Revolution was anything but a monstrous absurdity.”

    I guess that would be Barnes and me.

    “How about 9 years later when a dozen students were killed at Tiannamen Square (and to this day the commercial press repeats the myth that “thousands” were killed.) How do you formulate a line about world events that doesn’t advance the interests of imperialism?”

    I may be missing your point, and if I am, please forgive me. Is this atrocity somehow okay because there were only (alledgedly) a dozen students mudered, as oppossed to thousands? When is it ever okay to shoot anyone for merely demonstrating for an end to “re-education” camps for their elderly grandmothers.

    But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that state property still predominates, that the banking system is still nationalized, that the land reform remains essentially intact and that there remains a monopoly of foriegn trade. The answear to explaining such events as Tiannamen Square would, under these conditions, be something like this: the more democracy for the working masses, the stronger the worker’s state; the stonger the worker’s state, the weaker stand the imperialists.

    Comment by dave — March 25, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

  14. So there’s 2 guys, rather than 1, whose misreading of the progessive significance of the Iranian Revolution does not withstand scrutiny nor the test of time.

    There’s no space here to cover how the class character of the Chinese State has changed in the last 20 years but a dozen people is qualitatively different than a thousand in the midst of a protest that was in part manipulated by the CIA with propaganda and money, a protest that occupied the steps of government building for 90 days. Try occupying some government steps in DC for 90 minutes, let alone 90 days, and see how many get shot. States are “armed gangs defending property” after all.

    According to your formulation: “the more democracy for the working masses, the stronger the worker’s state; the stonger the worker’s state, the weaker stand the imperialists.”

    In abstraction such a slogan sounds wonderful but that was precisely the same formula you used during Glasnost & Perestroika and just look how much “weaker stand the imperialists” today with the USSR gone.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 25, 2009 @ 9:40 pm

  15. Correction: That was supposed to read “East” not “West” Germany in a prior comment.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 26, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

  16. A little background is needed…

    Proyect’s vision is what Trotskyists refer to as ‘Pabloism’ after the late Michel Pablo, one-time leader of the post-WWII Fourth International. Pablo pioneered the ‘radical’ idea of cleansing from Trotskyism every political principle that would get in the way of his followers blending in and becoming a pressure group on larger stalinist, social democratic or bourgeois nationalist movements — i.e. liquidating Trotskyism itself. With this program Pablo succeeded in politically destroying the Fourth International in 1953. (He later got himself hired as a left adviser to the bourgeois Ben Bella regime in Algeria.)

    Proyect’s hero Bert Cochran was Pablo’s U.S. agent, but, under conditions quite different from Pablo/Mandel’s people in Europe, couldn’t convince Cannon’s SWP to liquidate itself in favor of either the Norman Thomas CIA-Socialists or the irrelevant CPUSA. Cochran soon found himself thrown out of the SWP and politically homeless (his group quietly faded away after a few years).

    Eventually the SWP did succumb to the same liquidationist pressures that had created Pabloism in Europe, but developed a bizarre combination of ‘hard’ leninist organizational practices serving purely reformist political positions and appetites – laying the basis for the quirky, ultra-bureaucratic Barnesite outfit we know today. The SWP recruited a couple of capable social-democratic youth, Peter Camejo and Barry Sheppard to carry out its rightward turn in the Young Socialists the early 1960s… by the time Proyect ran into them, that SWP had nothing to do with Marxism or Trotskyism in any but the most ritualistic sense.

    But now Proyect is much older an wiser. His liquidationism is not so rushed and hectic any more. Perhaps, when eligible for a pension, he would sort of like to set up a nice leftish affinity group, as the first-step-to-a-stage to-a-conception-for-the-basis-of-building a genuine ‘Leninist (as practiced by the historical bolshevik party as described by Lars Lih but not exactly) Party’…

    (OK folks, no pushing and shoving in the sign-up queue! Remember now, NO ‘SHORTCUTS’!)

    But first he wants to get rid of (snip, snip) that troublesome formality known as ‘the program’… (You know – the kind of things people argue and even – god forbid! – split over).

    This would indeed be the appropriate vehicle for his politics, fitting nicely in fourth place behind running the ‘unrepentant’ (TM) website, movie review service and virtual leftist talk-shop.

    Comment by Red Cloud — March 27, 2009 @ 4:11 am

  17. I see that Red Cloud continues to evade how the actual Bolshevik party functioned. Although I don’t think that James P. Cannon’s party was as inconsequential as the Spartacist League that Red Cloud is channeling, clearly he was doing something completely different than what Lenin was doing, even he thought he was following Lenin’s example. Maybe someday Red Cloud will put away his Spartacist League literature and study what Lenin was really about. He would find it most edifying.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 27, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

  18. I love how Peter Camejo was a “mere social-democratic” activist to this guy. Who exactly is worthy of praise or being called a “Marxist” or a revolutionary?

    So much contempt for so many, but so little so show for himself.

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — March 27, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  19. Thanks for replying again Luis. Now that you’ve clarified, it appears to me that you are basically proposing the US SWP with different organizational methods. Originally I thought you were pointing to an entirely new kind of party, and that interested me. It’s unfortunate that I made such an incorrect assumption.

    Do you really think that if the SWP just had a looser membership structure and lower dues and fostered internal and external debate millions of workers would flock to it ranks?

    And yeah, Peter Camejo was a social democrat at best. What else could he have been? Look where he came from. What was he going to do, overthrow his own class privilege for moralistic reasons? Being determines consciousness. The working class must overthrow capitalism. The capitalists and their junior partners cannot and will not.

    Comment by VROT — March 28, 2009 @ 12:30 am

  20. –Do you really think that if the SWP just had a looser membership structure and lower dues and fostered internal and external debate millions of workers would flock to it ranks?

    –Of course not. You are posing things in a stupid way by speaking of “millions of workers” flocking to its ranks. You must have an extraordinary fantasy life. You should see the movie “Morgan” to find a kindred spirit.

    –Being determines consciousness. The working class must overthrow capitalism. The capitalists and their junior partners cannot and will not.

    –Nice to see that you have mastered the ABC’s. Now you have to work on D through Z.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 28, 2009 @ 12:42 am

  21. Leaving aside Anarchism, there’s 3 simple ways to categorize leftists today. I call them “The 4 Internationals of the 21st Century.”

    This 1st International is what Louis rightly calls the “Cruise Missile Left.” Christopher Hitchens is a prime example.

    The 2nd International, which can be fairly categorized as “Social Democrats”, believe the World’s a better place without the USSR. For all of his commitment to socialism Camejo was ultimately in this camp.

    The 3rd International concludes not only empirically but in its bones that the world’s a shittier place without the USSR. That view’s the point of departure for future party building.

    Before a 4th International of the 21st Century can be built we must first clarify our views on the above.

    Proyect’s dillemma is that his body & mind are not quite in sync. His instictive goal is rightly the 4th camp but his bones rest in the 3rd and his brain idealizes the 2nd.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 28, 2009 @ 1:21 am

  22. I think “D-Z” are to be found here: http://marx.org/archive/marx/works/1879/09/17.htm

    Comment by VROT — March 28, 2009 @ 2:07 am

  23. Karl, I told you already that I don’t want people posting off-topic stuff on this blog. I am all for free speech but I have the right to delete items that are not germane. Under a post about democratic centralism, there is no connection to Peter Camejo and UFPJ whatsoever. If I post an article on Peter Camejo’s role in the antiwar movement, please feel free to comment on it. But on this particular post, please try to stick to the topic.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 28, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

  24. On the topic of Party Building in Comment #18 Comrade Sunkara asks: “Who exactly is worthy of praise or being called a “Marxist” or a revolutionary?”

    What you will NOT find in the typical Marxian revolutionists biography is the following, as quoted from the 10/29/03 Oakland Tribune: Although Camejo never finished his degree after he was (unfairly) expelled from the Berkeley Campus in 1967: “He went on to found a financial consulting company based in Oakland with offices in 16 states and close to $1 billion in investments.”

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20031029/ai_n14565615

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 28, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  25. What is the obsession with Peter Camejo, Karl? Have you looked into Zoloft?

    Comment by louisproyect — March 28, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  26. Louis — I’ve read your blog from Stem to Stern and YOU are the one apparently obssessed with Camejo as you bring up his name at least half a dozen times. You can sure dish it out but cannot take it in. Stop bringing up names if you don’t want them commented on and quit running a Marxian e-school of falsification by deleting my posts that are NOT that far off topic, especially when they’re a direct reply to comrade Sunkara’s comment.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 28, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  27. I have indeed scrutinized comrade Zoloft’s screeds & conclude that he is a revisionist shill for the pharmaceutical lobby.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 28, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

  28. “Of course not. You are posing things in a stupid way by speaking of “millions of workers” flocking to its ranks. You must have an extraordinary fantasy life. You should see the movie “Morgan” to find a kindred spirit.”

    Replying to criticism with insults doesn’t move things forward in any way.

    I speak of millions of workers because there will be no revolution in the U.S. without exactly that.

    You’ve made clear that you propose the SWP with a looser membership structure. To me that means you think teh reason workers aren’t joining and supporting the SWP now is because of its internal organizational structure. Correct me if I’m wrong here. It doesn’t make any sense. If that was the case, workers would be getting involved the SWP in large numbers, even if only to later leave (and probably look for alternatives) once they ran into the organizational methods that you say are holding everything back. That’s not happening.

    Comment by VROT — March 28, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

  29. I speak of millions of workers because there will be no revolution in the U.S. without exactly that.

    Don’t you realize that you are spouting sterile formulas? I am afraid I wasted my time replying to you in the first place. You don’t have the foggiest idea what it means to belong to a sect.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 28, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

  30. Whatever you’re on about makes really little sense.

    Needing millions of workers to make a socialist revolution in a country with tens of millions of workers is not a “sterile formula.” It’s a fact.

    Comment by VROT — March 28, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

  31. […] model of organization today generates what Marxmail moderator Louis Proyect terms a “small business mentality.” Each group operates like a “small business that competes for […]

    Pingback by How Can We Build the Socialist Movement in the 21st Century? — January 12, 2013 @ 6:13 pm


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