Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 14, 2014

Goodbye Leninism

Filed under: Lenin,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 7:50 pm
When the Books Don’t Cook

Goodbye Leninism


On August 2nd Ian Birchall wrote an article titled “Lenin: Yes! Leninism: No?” for the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (RS21) website that has touched off an ongoing debate. For those trying to create an effective anticapitalist movement, Birchall’s article makes plenty of sense since it goes a long way toward putting the icons of October 1917 where they belong, into the historical archives. For those, however, who want to trace their lineage back to the Bolshevik revolution, like the connection that the Catholic Church makes between Pope Francis (a pretty good guy by the evidence) and Saint Peter, there is a need to uphold the sanctity of “Leninism”. Yet nobody outside the ranks of a Leninist party or the Catholic Church takes the lineage claims very seriously, especially people like me who went through such a painful experience (Leninism, not Catholicism.)

Ian Birchall, like many of the people involved with the RS21 website, was a long-time member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain. This group lost many members after it failed to take action against a top leader who allegedly raped a young member, a failure that led to an ongoing crisis that I discussed in an earlier CounterPunch article. SWP leader Alex Callinicos warned members that the revolt was less about the rape charge than it was about defending the party from an attack on “Leninism”, a ploy that probably accelerated the rush to the nearest door.

Read full article


  1. Finally, an explanation of my baffling experiences over the past several years with the ISOs in Austin (2), San Marcos and Dallas (TX). Each time they seemed like cults, but how could an organization “of the Left” be so, well, fascist? My perception now is that they ARE/WERE fascist cults of people who DID leave their brains at the door.

    So they are LENINIST cults with centralization, disicipline and obedience to leaders. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! There was just something that was just “off” sbout them; cult I knew already but this explains a lot.

    The problem is that I observed that they were background manipulators of — or glomming on to — Occupy; a dozen or so “Left” protests (like about Treyvon Martin); the state capitol Wendy Davis anti-abortion bill filibuster protests in the state capitol; and in Dallas, what was supposed to be a contra Gay Incorporated event called Queerbomb but turned out to be WORSE, if that be possible, than the alcohol-culture controled and pay-to-play Gay Incorporated Pride event.

    The ISO Queerbombers were far more interested in DI-VER-SI-TAY than they were in either Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden’s NSA testimony to the Council of Europe as reported by the UK Guardian: “Snowden said he did not believe the NSA was engaged in nightmare scenarios, such as the active compilation of a list of homosexuals to round them up and send them into camps. But he said that the infrastructure allowing this to happen had been built.” I was baffled but then one of the “leaders” let it slip that the ISO was helping and…

    You see, on good evidence, I went to the Austin ISO two years ago with the idea that running self-identified socialist write-in candidacies for state and congressional offices might be a good organizing tool in prep for a third party ballot effort for 2016. Texas is, of course, a state totally devoid of any authentic liberal, reformist, progressive or anything other than the corporate Vichy Democrats , and would be a good organizing strategery. They refused to even let me talk. I had been thrown out of a lot more reputable dives like city council meetings before, but this stupefied me.

    Someone made a motion to let me speak. No second. Died for lack of a second. But you didn’t even vote,” I protested. “But it was democratic,” the older-than them-but-not-me manipulator-in-chief explained looking over his glasses at me, smilingly, condescendingly.

    This was the same not-trustworthy guy to whom I said, on the night Austin police crackdown of Occupy on Halloween Eve 2011 that “we should do Chicago 1968 chants of “Sieg Heil”. His response? Shook his head no in quick shakes and said “no, that would not be good”. I immediately suspected him of being the much-suspected police collaborator.

    But if “Marxism, by contrast, is simply a method for analyzing society” then I hereby now come out of that closet, too…”. There was always something inchoate about Marx that made sense — I was really intrigued byTerry Eagleton’s literary analyses for one thing; it was putting Marx into practice that also always seemed problematic. Now I can see why.

    Thanks for solving THAT myster lol

    Comment by thom prentice — November 14, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

  2. Louis, I read your article, and doubt we have any significant disagreements over the problems “Leninism” has created for revolutionaries and parties since the Russian Revolution. I attribute much of this to the horrendous circumstances in which Russian “socialism” was attempted and the tactics and strategies that emerged and became institutionalized dogma on the left.

    My point, though, is that there was a very different Lenin–a philosophical, humane, and democratically inclined man who devoured Hegelian/Marxist dialectics as revealed in his 1914-1915 notebooks. This Lenin disappeared when faced with the circumstances of 1917 and thereafter, though, and an all-powerful party, the red terror, the Cheka, and then Stalin arose. The excellent work I read on Lenin’s philosophical notebooks is Kevin Anderson’s Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism (1995).

    I see Lenin as a brilliant but rather cold man whose best inclinations were lost in part to circumstance. Stalin, however, was a “Genghis Khan who had read Marx,” as Trotsky described him.

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — November 15, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

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