Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 28, 2012

The forgotten legacies of Bolshevism on revolutionary organisation (part I)

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 3:11 pm

| December 28, 2012 | 0 Comments

In the context of debates on the contemporary left, Simon Hardy discusses the forgotten legacies of pre-1917 Russian Marxism. Against the traditional conception of a ‘vanguardist’ and monolithic party, he argues that the Bolsheviks should be situated within a tradition of building broad parties that allowed for a plurality of tendencies, and saw themselves as a tendency seeking to fuse a revolutionary democratic and communist politics with the militant leaders of the working class struggle. Contrary to the Stalinist caricature of the top-down party, this re-articulated version of ‘Leninism’ has lessons for the building of new, democratic revolutionary organisations today.

This article is divided into two parts. Part II to be published soon.

The history of the revolutionary left in the 20th century has not been a happy one: if the goals are conceived in terms of achieving a socialist transformation of our global society along democratic and emancipatory lines based upon the working class subject, then we have experienced a ‘double failure’. Socialist regimes either collapsed into authoritarianism and nationalism, or were born as such, and capitalism achieved a degree of political hegemony at the end of the last century, that even its most devout supporters had never dared imagine was possible.

The strength or weakness of the revolutionary forces tends to be linked to the confidence and militancy of the working class and popular radical forces more generally, but the left cannot just keep blaming “objective” factors on their failures. We have to look at our own practices and methods as well.

In many countries today, the revolutionary left is suffering an unprecedented degree of marginalisation, despite the rise of mass anti-austerity and anticapitalist movements such as Occupy. The blame for this decline is usually laid at the door of the working class (“too backward”) or other left groups (“they keep recruiting people who should be with us!”).

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