Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 24, 2014

What is a Marxist organization?

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

What is a Marxist organization?

by SCOTT JAY on DECEMBER 24, 2014


It is a commonplace on the Marxist Left that revolutionary organizations need to be rooted in the working class, so much so that “middle-class” is just as common an insult as “sectarian” or “opportunist.” Middle-class dominated socialist groups are generally aware of their class basis and strive to overcome it—noting that an organization tends to be middle-class does not tell anybody anything they did not already know. Therefore, we will look at the problem of the base of an organization from a different angle.

A fundamental weakness of the organizations of the socialist Left is that their members do not have a material stake in their organizations.

Members of Leninist organizations join largely because they believe in the ideas. This is certainly how they are recruited. For the groups that are able to grow larger than an irrelevant sect, the members may even join because they believe in the actions of the organization. But very few of these actions actually have a material impact on the lives and livelihoods of their members and Leninists rarely even consider that this might be a problem.

For decades, Leninists of various stripes have distinguished themselves by their unique analyses of the Soviet Union, recruiting members to their theoretical model and, in some of the better cases, engaging in mass movements and even trade union activism as well. These groups could debate on end their different analyses of whether the the Soviet Union was state capitalist, or a degenerated workers state, or whether they included China, Cuba, Serbia, Albania, or North Korea among their canon.

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  1. This nails the diagnosis. But to have a remedy one also needs to figure out exactly why this is so. How come no American Marxist organization has successfully engaged the material interests of its mebership since the Depression? bad ideas and strategy? That partly brings us back to sqare one, as one comment puts it. Material interests cannot be created (unless we are talking about organizations with a great deal of power). We have to figure out what they are and how they relate socialism. And this is where the legacies of “Marxism” and “Leninism” cloud our vision.

    While the US is a special case, the whole corpus of Western Marxism has been living through a decades-long depression. The surviving Communist parties are living off their legacies and the emerging European Left is neither defined nor guided by Marxism in any meaningful sense. I think that the fact of the fragmentation of the working class has not sunk in on Western Marxism. Where it had sunk in and where material interests were indeed at stake (e.g. the Italian Communists), the organisations evaporated.

    What the solution is I don’t know. I would not urge anyone to forget Marx or pretend that Marxism had never existed. The article points in the right direction. I would add that its not only Leninism, but Marxism as a whole that has become thoroughly disconnected from the material concerns and the language of living people. It has preferred to focus on the struggles and praseology of a hundred years ago. Nothing wrong with studying history or reading closely, but those things ought to be done objectively. They should not serve as building blocks for a “what we stand for” pamphlet or a “Marxist analysis of so and so” article. Indeed, I hope that the “Marxism” label will be used more sparingly by those who take both Marx and revolutionary socialism seriously. Can we focus our energy on providing a quality product, instead of branding it a a genuine Marx?

    Comment by Max — December 25, 2014 @ 12:33 am

  2. If I understand this correctly Hezbollah could serve as a model for a leftist movement. Yet, to amplify the comment above, how is the working class of the USA or Europe, which in my experience lives pay check to paycheck, supposed to come up with the resources to protect the interests of its members?

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 26, 2014 @ 6:42 pm

  3. The article correctly identifies why Western Marxism is a time-waster. But it proposes nothing less than a radical labor movement, hopefully one that aligns it material incentives with the goal of undermining capitalism. We all want that but that is no small feat. Well gotta start somewhere. Fact is the author of the article should be seen as Captain Obvious. but it is sad that the question of “what’s in it for us” only enters into the heads of Marxist activists right before they quit their sects.

    Comment by Max — December 26, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

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