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Platonic Leninism -- Saving the Paradigm? December 26, 2003 by RedStar2000

Suppose you meet a Leninist who wants to "save the paradigm" of Leninism but cannot deny how "bad" it was in the 20th century?

They tell you that what happened then was not "real Leninism".

Here's what I told them.


With difficulty, I resist the temptation to kick this thread into the History forum...where I strongly suspect it belongs.

It's also a very confused thread.

Let's start with the confusion around the word "vanguard". Obviously, Marx thought that communists would "push forward" the struggle of the working class because communists had a clearer idea of where it was really going.

That's not the same as Lenin's "vanguard party" fact, Marx and Engels specifically state in the Manifesto that communists do not form a separate party but are rather part of all other working class parties.

Further, this was the actual practice of Marx and Engels. The First International was not a "communist" was a federation of workers who were, more or less, inclined towards militant trade-union activities with a "gloss" of pro-revolutionary sentiment. There was no "Marxist" party then, in either a Kautskyist or a Leninist form.

In many other works, Marx and Engels describe the rise of revolutionary class consciousness as a normal product of the functioning of capitalism itself...not something that must be "injected" into the working class by a "communist elite".

Both Kautsky and Lenin were of the opinion that non-working class "communist intellectuals" were required to arouse the working class to its historic mission of overthrowing the bourgeoisie.

It seemed like a "good idea" at the time...but it was not a Marxist idea.


"If you don't do what I say then I'm going to destroy the entire there!" (That's exactly what he [Marx] said)

I doubt very much if Marx ever wrote that...but I'm willing to be instructed if I am in error.

Nor do I think that Marx had the power to move the headquarters to least not without a lot of votes in favor of the move.

As to his motives, who can say? I vaguely recall reading some scrap to the effect that there was a growing working class movement on the east coast of the U.S., and it's known that there was a substantial number of German-speaking immigrants who supported or at least were friendly to Marx's views (Marx wrote to them and urged them to learn English).

Another possibility is that the English trade unionists (who were Marx's supporters in the First International) were growing "too conservative" for Marx's taste...and he foresaw the International becoming reformist if it remained in London.

Or perhaps he did indeed think that the followers of Bakunin would "sneak back in" (I think they were already gone when the move was made) and "work mischief".

It's even possible that he was growing weary with age...and wanted to "pass the baton" to younger and more vigorous men.

Thus the "dance of speculation".

But to what end? If it pleases some to make Marx "look bad" and Bakunin "look good"--or vice versa--who benefits? None of us are accredited delegates to the next plenary assembly of the First doesn't exist any more. Our "votes" don't count.

Whatever the personal or theoretical merits of Marx or Bakunin, we should all find it easy enough to grasp that the Leninist paradigm is manifestly a failure. A "workers' state", even if established, begins degenerating into a despotism almost at once.

That cannot be the way to go...if communism is what we want.


In Marxism, there is a withering away of a transitional workers State, but not by supreme tutelage, but [by] improving the material conditions for all.

Actually, most if not all of the Leninists on this board have emphasized heavily the "tutorial" function of the "transitional workers' state". To them, "socialism" is a "school" for "communism".

In any event, the "transitional state" hypothesis has turned out to be wrong. It does not detract from Marx's "reputation" that he and Engels were wrong about something. They were not "prophets" acting on "divine revelation"...they were humans making the best efforts that their era permitted them to understand how class societies change.

What seems clear now (and didn't then) is that if we want a communist society, then that is what we must build after the revolution. The "detour" through "socialism" (state monopoly capitalism) is not only superfluous but actually counter-revolutionary. It does not "lead" to communism; it prevents it.


I now confidently declare anarchism as a theology.

There actually are "theological anarchists"...a very tiny portion of the whole. But such remarks are unhelpful.

To suggest that workers (and even peasants) "cannot" spontaneously rise and effectively smash an obsolete order directly contradicts the actual experience of the February 1917 revolution in Russia. Lacking both parties and "great leaders", the workers and peasants destroyed the Russian autocracy and made it stick...primarily by killing every aristocrat they could get their hands on and driving the rest into permanent exile.

And even bourgeois historians--who generally detest the idea of "laws" of history--will admit at least one such "law": what has happened, can happen.

The modern example, of course, is the French General Strike of May 1968. Who were the "leaders"? Where was the "vanguard party"?

The Leninist paradigm cannot only not explain this can't even mention it. Such things "are not supposed to happen"...therefore they "didn't". It was just a bunch of "spoiled kids" who "got out of hand".

None of us are "prophets" either. The shape of proletarian revolution--probably in the latter part of this century at the earliest--is unknown to us. How much of it will be "spontaneous" and how much the work of "conscious revolutionaries" cannot be foretold with any confidence.

What we can do is fight for what we really want. We can try our best to "push history" in the direction we actually want it to go.

And then we'll see what happens.
First posted at Che-Lives on December 19, 2003


The theoretical differences between Marxists and anarchists are primarily theoretical. They do have a history but this all about theory. It is at the very roots of what divides the left. The attempt to move it to history, I read as a sectarian attempt to trivialise the issues.

I don't wish to be seen as "sectarian", of course, but I actually do think the differences have become "trivial"...with the passage of time.

Of course, one may assert that "because" Marx thought that a "transitional workers' state" was "necessary", "therefore" we "have" to think that too...or else we have "abandoned" Marxism.

I think this is treating Marx like "scripture"...and not looking at matters the way Marx himself would have looked at them were he alive today.

When the Communist Manifesto was written, the proletariat was still a minority everywhere except perhaps England...and was, at best, semi-literate and minimally educated. Under such conditions, a "transitional state" makes logical sense.

That is no longer the situation. With the change in material conditions over the last 150 years must come a change in revolutionary theory...a "convergence" of Marxism and anarchism, if you will.

It is no use claiming that Bakunin and his followers were "unrealistic utopians" in 1870...after Spain in 1936, much less now.

If I am right about this, then re-hashing Marx vs. Bakunin begins indeed to look like "Stalin vs. Trotsky"--which we always kick into the History forum whenever it oozes out from the waste dump of old movements.

"Marx vs. Bakunin" was "a big deal" in 1870...but the only ones who still think it's a big deal are those who wish to embalm Marx so he will quietly "rest" next to Lenin and not disturb the tranquility of Leninist state-monopoly capitalism nor the market for its old bonds and securities.


It is wrong to suggest that Lenin formed the Party.

Granted that the world would be buried in nits if there were no nit-pickers, this is extreme...and another pointer to the History forum. We know the kind of party Lenin wanted. We know what kind of party he did his utmost to build.

His speeches at the 10th Party Congress in March 1921 clearly show his "maximum tolerance" for dissent and discussion within the party as well as the iron discipline he was prepared to impose on the working class without so much as a hint of sharing any power at all with that class.

The Leninist/Stalinist/Trotskyist/Titoist/Maoist party was formed by Lenin and everyone knows what such a party is like and how it functions. Furthermore, Lenin imposed this model of a "communist" party on the 3rd group could affiliate unless it agreed to function in the same way.


According to Marx he was not a Marxist; Lenin was not alive. What do you mean by a Kautskyist form. Otherwise it is a totally meaningless sentence. Was he around then, I would think not.

Perhaps I failed to make myself clear. My point was that Marx himself did not function as a Leninist and the First International was not constructed nor did it operate according to Leninist principles.

It was also not an electoral--or "Kautskyist"--international; as far as I know, Marx was utterly indifferent to bourgeois electoral politics...and nearly everyone in the First International agreed. Engels did, by the way, change his views after Marx died and was quite enthusiastic over the electoral prospects of German Social Democracy (especially after Kautsky wrote the Erfurt Program in 1891).


There is no Leninist paradigm.

How can you possibly say such a thing? Leninists the world over still study What Is To Be Done?, Imperialism--the Highest Stage of Capitalism, The State and Revolution, and Left-Wing Communism--An Infantile Disorder...not to mention much else.

There must still be at least several hundred parties around the world that structure themselves according to the principles of "democratic" centralism. Most are ineffective sects, to be sure, but some still have substantial influence.

The history of 20th century "communism" was Leninist.


There has never been a workers' state. Lenin defined Russia as a workers' and peasants' state with gross bureaucratic distortions. The gross bureaucratic distortions were treated as an enemy.

The implication here is that "Uncle Joe" should get the "blame" for "ruining" Lenin's project. Even if that were "true", I don't see how Stalin can be held responsible for "democratic" centralism or the "necessity" of a vanguard party dictatorship.

Those were Lenin's "contributions"--theoretical and practical--to Russian "Marxism"...made long before "the failure of the German revolution" or anything else along those lines.

And verbal attacks on "bureaucratic distortions" mean very little...even Stalin made them from time to time. So did Mao. And Trotsky built a whole "theory" on them.

None of them challenged the central theses of the Leninist paradigm--they were all "good Leninists", regardless of their other differences.


Without a workers state our task becomes to convert the world's population one by one to socialism. That is the logos of Bakunin.

I don't think so, but even if it were, so what? We are not "chained" to Bakunin's 19th century vision, are we?

Class struggle still takes place, does it not? People still learn the lessons of that, do they not? Sometimes, in pretty large numbers, right? Not just "one by one".

I don't understand why you suggest a "workers' state" as the only alternative to "one by one" conversion. There are many ways that people develop revolutionary consciousness...and "workers' states" have been a rather conspicuous failure in that project (as in many others).

The working class did not lift a finger to "save" the USSR...after 75 years of a "workers' state". Excuse me, "workers' and peasants' state". The peasants didn't lift a finger either.


I can't see what the French communist party of 1968 had to do with Lenin beyond lip service.

Well, there were Maoist and Trotskyist parties there, too.

But, more importantly, how did it happen that this once "revolutionary" Leninist party turned into a counter-revolutionary obstacle to revolution? Why does this happen over and over again? (In Spain, in Italy, in the United States, etc., etc.)

Leninists like to emphasize their (temporary) wins--Russia, China, Eastern Europe, IndoChina and North Korea. What of all the catastrophic failures? All the places where they had a real shot at "state power" and pissed it away or even actively stopped the spontaneous revolutionary process?

In Russia's "July Days" (1917), the working class--including most rank-and-file Bolsheviks--were ready to rise and overthrow the wretched and ineffective "Provisional Government". Guess who told them not to do it...and made it stick.

Yeah, it was Lenin.
First posted at Che-Lives on December 20, 2003


The first fact that has been established most accurately by the whole theory of development, by science as a whole--a fact that was ignored by the utopians, and is ignored by the present-day opportunists, who are afraid of the socialist revolution--is that, historically, there must undoubtedly be a special stage, or a special phase, of transition from capitalism to communism.

I fail to see that "science as a whole" has "established" any such thing.

A "common sense" approach to the matter would suggest that, by definition, there will be a period of transition. No large-scale human endeavor takes place overnight and previous changes in class societies took centuries to complete.

But that's not really at issue here. What is at issue is the nature of the transition.

Is it to be a "top-down" process, imposed by a self-appointed "vanguard" elite--utilizing a repressive centralized state-apparatus? Or is it to be done entirely by the workers themselves?

Bakunin's abstract disagreements with Marx "on the nature of the state" are not relevant to this controversy. This is a question of class self-determination, period.

Does the working class "need" to be ruled "for its own good" prior to the establishment of communism? The Leninists say "yes!". The anarchists say "no!".

In the 19th century, it's possible that Marx was right and Bakunin was wrong.

Now, the anarchists are right! The Leninist ideal of "benevolent (vanguard) despotism" is an anachronism.

There's simply no legitimate reason to put up with that nonsense any longer. None! Zero!

And, I might add, that it is not a matter of "demonizing" Lenin or anyone else; I have said on numerous occasions that I thought Lenin and all of his disciples were "sincere revolutionaries" who genuinely believed they were "doing the right thing".

They just turned out to be wrong, that's all.
First posted at Che-Lives on December 20, 2003


Redstar2000, how much more do you want?

Lots! For starters, I do not see how Aristotle, Machiavelli, or Morgan have anything particularly relevant to say about the nature of the transition from capitalism to communism.

In fact, it seems to me that Marx was the first to actually propose a scientific hypothesis as to the nature of the transition: a workers' state.

The hypothesis has been falsified.

Lenin didn't know that. We do!


This [smashing the state machine] [is] not a delicate task. It involves the standing army of the [bourgeoisie] against the army of the proletariat. If you look at Chile, you can see what voting socialist does for your family's disappearance.The life and death of our class is at stake. If it is not organised to the highest degree then it is much the same as murder.

I don't think Chile is a relevant example here; the problem in that (and many) countries had to do with illusions regarding "bourgeois legality". Many people still think that "all" one needs to do is "vote" and the ruling class will abide by the outcome.

As regards "the army of the bourgeoisie vs. the army of the proletariat", I think you are making a mistake. It's a very interesting mistake, because the ruling class makes it, too...


For months, the hunt for Saddam focused on finding a hierarchy of command of the kind the Pentagon would construct to run a war: battalions reporting to divisions reporting to commanders reporting to a commander in chief. Up and down communications. Sections for finance, intelligence, logistics, personnel.

Cut off the head of this organization and it would wither away, the theory said. American military doctrine even has a name for it: "decapitation" or "beheading."

"Central to Western culture is the belief that ordinary citizens can do nothing without a strong leader. But in the far older Eastern cultures, people have long realized they can make a tremendous difference, together, without any leader at all," said John Poole, a veteran Marine Corps war fighter and tactics instructor.

That, Poole said, means that the enemy in Iraq is decentralized, small and loosely connected cells operating autonomously and sparking almost spontaneous local attacks.

Such fighters are politically astute and patient. They know that killing even a small number of Americans can have a huge impact in the media, Poole said. "And if they can figure out a way to beat you in 20 years, they will do that," he said. "They are not worried about tomorrow's polls."

Required reading for Leninists?


Does a vanguard destroy, smash the State? The vanguard would have to be pretty big. It would also need revolutionary politics. It must consist of millions of workers,who want to be confident of victory.

In October 1917, the Bolsheviks formally "smashed" the old Russian state in the name of the Soviets. There were probably not more than a few thousand people directly involved in that; it was a "formality" as the "authority" of the old Provisional Government ended at the front gates of the Winter Palace.

Under very similar circumstances, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists did not do this in Catalonia...and they're are still kicking themselves (rightfully) for that gross blunder more than six decades later.

It's a hard lesson to break the habits of custom and obedience.


RedStar2000, you have written that Marx's vanguard is different from Lenin's. The anarchists don't want a vanguard; they envisage spontaneous organisation.

In practice, I think serious anarchists obviously envision an important role for the most advanced elements of the struggle...that is quite similar to Marx's conception.

There is a distinction to be made between advancing proposals and arguments, pointing out the lessons of previous struggles, etc. and proclaiming your "right to rule".

The Leninists, implicitly and explicitly, say that if they're not "in charge", the revolution will "always lose".

That looked pretty convincing in doesn't fool anybody with any sense now.


Democratic Centralism is the basic method of organisation in the working class: "democracy in discussion--centralism in action".

Even in formal terms, this is obviously inadequate. What good is "discussion", no matter how "democratic", when decisions are made at the top and everyone is commanded to obey?

If you look at the practice of Leninist parties, it's much worse. There is very little discussion of substance because everyone knows that it makes no difference. Humans don't like to "waste their time" in pointless activities...and thoughtful discussion is hard work. So why bother?

If there were some way to do an objective survey, my guess is that it would show that there is more substantive discussion in a month at Che-Lives than in years of any Leninist party you'd care to name. I'd grant occasional and temporary exceptions to that...but, on the whole, I think it would hold true.


Proletarian (or participatory) democracy: the principles of proletarian democracy were given their most objective demonstration in the Paris Commune. As described by Lenin in his State and Revolution, proletarian democracy implies the widest, most democratic and most exhaustive discussion prior to any decision, and emphasises the right of people to determine their own activity, and opposes the separation of legislative and executive branches, i.e., the division of labour between administration and labour, theory and practice. Consequently, democratic centralism implies that an organisation ought to be so structured as to provide the capacity of any part of organisation to participate in determining policies relevant to their own responsibilities.

Yes, I'm well aware of the "pretty pictures" in State and Revolution...I used to think they were photographs, or at least an "architect's rendering" of how the structure would look.

"Every cook will be a politician", right?

Wrong. Every cook turned out to still be a cook. And it was newly-coined politicians--Lenin & Company--who drafted the menus...and even the recipes.

The idealized and heavily-colored portrait of a "workers' state" in State and Revolution has always been a "favorite" of Leninists...perhaps because it contrasts so sharply with the dreary reality of daily Leninist politics. Standing on a wind-swept street corner, trying to sell newspapers that no one wants to buy, one may dream of a wonderful future life in classless society. On the opposite corner are a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses, selling their paper and dreaming of a wonderful future life in "Heaven". The passing pedestrian would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

So would I.


It is inescapable that effective coordination in action presupposes leadership which is obeyed without question.

Yeah, tell it to the Iraqi resistance. Do not be upset if they laugh at you.


Too much democracy in action leads to disorganisation and confusion, and usually defeat; too much centralism in discussion leads to bureaucratism, bad decisions and a loss of commitment amongst members.

You left something out of that second list: defeat.

Beyond this, who is to determine what is "too much democracy" and on what basis is the determination to be made?

If a revolutionary uprising is defeated, shall we say afterwards that the problem was that they were "too democratic"...or even "too centralized"?

Frankly, I think this is a "looks like" a question but it has no determinate answer.

You "win" or "lose" usually because of a complex of objective material circumstances...and the internal workings of your organization are probably trivial in comparison to objective conditions.

Consequently, the shape of your revolutionary organization should be determined by other considerations...and one of the best of those is what do you want your future society to actually be like?.

History suggests a high positive correlation between the nature of a revolutionary movement and the kind of new society it brings forth. Correlation is not the same as cause--something we always need to be reminded of--but it is certainly food for thought.


The aim of Marxist organisational practice is to be able to freely move between one or another form of organisation according to circumstances, and according to the needs of the working class as a whole.

That's a fairly sensible statement...but I've never seen a Leninist who didn't insist on the primary role of his centralized, militarized "vanguard party" under any and all circumstances.

Historically, the "needs of the working class" have actually resulted in the spontaneous creation of new organizational the workers themselves.

Marxists have no problem with that; it bothers Leninists a lot. Initially, the Bolsheviks wanted nothing to do with the soviets...that's history.


Even if it was corrupted, it does not make it wrong. There is absolutely nothing in it that innately spawns corruption.

Not directly, perhaps...what it does spawn is the "insolence of office". Those who become the permanent "leaders" arrange matters to perpetuate their positions--using the police, if all else fails. They do so from entirely altruistic motives--at least in their own minds. As Stalin is supposed to have remarked to his inner circle shortly before his final illness and death, "You are children. When I'm gone, the imperialists will eat you alive." (He had a point!)

Material corruption follows more or less rapidly on the heels of "revolutionary" does the natural evolution of a new ruling class.

To a Marxist, there's no "hidden mystery" or evidence of "natural human depravity" in this phenomenon. It's as logical and natural as snow in cold weather.

Being determines consciousness.


No matter what happened, you cannot destroy these principles or deny that on the whole they have brought military victory for our class in backward isolated countries.

If Marx was right, there is no such thing as working class "victories" in "backward, isolated countries".

And even if Marx was wrong, of what use are "victories in military battles" when the war is lost?


If you tag the title Leninist on to everything that moved outside the anarchist Left then you are living a fantasy world devoid of study of Lenin or Marx.

No, I tag the title "Leninist" on what is specific to that political paradigm. The people that I refer to as Leninists are people who claim that title for themselves...though I sometimes have a little fun at their expense when they show a rather weak and confused understanding of Lenin's actual ideas.


I repeat again "failure is not the issue."

Then why bother with history at all? Shall we simply argue in circles, like philosophers did in the days before Marx, without regard to material reality?

If a hypothesis is tested by experiment, and fails over and over again, what becomes of science if your response is continually "failure is not an issue"?

When do you give up on an idea that doesn't work?
First posted at Che-Lives on December 21, 2003


The dictatorship of the proletariat was not theorised by another previous philosopher. It was his discovery and he claimed it as his discovery. He obviously by your reckoning plucked it out of a vacuum. Are you being serious here or are you trying to say that Marx did not come to this conclusion by thoroughly researching his subject.

Marx did indeed research his subject...but not by consulting Aristotle, He looked at actual class societies and how they were transformed. If capitalist society is a "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie"...which was obviously "on history's agenda" even in 1847, then it follows that post-capitalist society will be a "dictatorship of the proletariat".

Since all previous forms of class society used a state machinery for this purpose, he postulated--logically--a "workers' state" that would perform the same function after the proletarian revolution.

That was a hypothesis.


You say the hypothesis has failed but there never has been a worker's state. The hypothesis has not even been tested yet.

All of the 20th century Leninist parties claimed that title, most notably the USSR itself. Yes, they tossed a few verbal bones to the peasantry...but unless you want to suggest that a substantial portion of the leadership of the CPSU(B) were of peasant origins or were in some sense motivated by small peasant ideology, that's a meaningless addendum.

Your objection appears to be something along the lines of: they were all "incompetent" Leninists...unable to "get it right". And this judgment would apply even to Lenin himself.

That's what's known as a secondary hypothesis...something that one introduces to "save the phenomena"--keep the original paradigm still un-falsified.

Usually, it's not a "good sign" for your paradigm when you have to do that. It "might" be true...or might simply be the first sign of multiplying difficulties and inexplicable results.

A "Platonic Leninism" unsullied by any real world examples "might" be "valid"...there's simply no way to know until it "descends" into the muck of material reality and can be tested.

In the meantime, the real Leninism that everyone knows about has, in my view, been clearly falsified.


"We do". I like the use of the Royal we, is this an elitist tendency I am discovering.

Actually, I meant it as a simple plural: "we" in the sense of "others besides me". Lenin did not know that his projected "workers' state" would naturally devolve back into capitalism. We, who are living after the process has been completed, do know.


I don't have a clue what you are trying to get at. Who is the class war between then?

What I am "getting at" is the character of popular struggle. It's not a matter of "armies facing each other in the field". The attempt to impose a "military structure" on revolution is self-defeating. You actually make it "easier" for the ruling class to defeat you...decapitating the leadership is a strategy they understand "instinctively". Their own "world-view" assumes leadership is axiomatic.

A real revolution--Russia in February 1917, Spain in 1936--is very different. There are thousands and even millions of "leaders". No matter who the ruling class captures/kills...the revolution continues.

Once again, that's history.


"in charge"...that is an inference not based on the principles of democratic centralism.

Well, they've said it often enough...and wherever they got the chance to put it into practice, that's what they did.

Lenin himself made no bones about "the exclusive leading role of the party" and both Trotsky and Stalin agreed. So did Mao, Tito, and even Castro.

So have, to the best of my knowledge, all self-designated "Marxist"-Leninist parties everywhere.

I've honestly never heard of a single exception.


The royal we now suggests that democratic centralism was devised to fool the people, not to defend workers lives and democratic rights.

Regardless of the intent of Lenin when he formulated "democratic" centralism, the practice got worse with the passage of time. I think it could probably be shown that sometime in the 1930s-1940s, the practice became more or less openly "cynical" in most countries.

If you consult accounts written by disillusioned communists from that period, they talk at considerable length about the "stifling atmosphere" and "lack of any pretense of democracy" in the parties of the 3rd International.

Naturally, I'm more familiar with American Leninist parties than I am with parties in other countries. But now and then, I do run across accounts of "internal party struggles" in other countries...and it's the same story. (That includes Trotskyist parties, by the way.)

The leadership responds to serious dissent with expulsion. If the party has "state power", worse things happen.

Everybody--plural noun--who's been paying attention knows this.


The practice of Leninist parties has been on the whole against the principles of democratic centralism.

This is your "secondary hypothesis" again...and "might" be "true". But then you need a "tertiary hypothesis"...why do "democratic" centralist parties fail to operate according to their "principles"?

Personal villainy?


What are you trying to get at here. "The State and Revolution" is not directed towards a particular nation state or division of labour.

I'm "trying to get at" the difference between what the theory promised and what it delivered.

Doesn't that count for anything?


You think the resistance is without leadership, why?

I repeat...


That means that the enemy in Iraq is decentralized, small and loosely connected cells operating autonomously and sparking almost spontaneous local attacks.

Isn't that clear? They don't have and don't need a centralized command structure.


Usually if the discussion is going on all night and the proposed action is in the morning.

If that's your definition of "too much democracy", it is remarkably imprecise.

I've actually been in meetings (of non-Leninist groups) that lasted overnight and into the early morning hours. The reason for this involved a very heated controversy that a very large number of people wanted to be heard on...and it is senseless to impose an abrupt end to such discussions.

If an action is so controversial as to provoke an unusually extended debate, that should tell you something.

Two things, actually: the decision is perceived as important and the group is deeply divided on the question.

"No action" might be the "right decision".


The brutalisation of the working class will not go away by the mere appearance of a revolutionary movement; it will take a long time.

This is pretty standard stuff; if the workers are "brutes", one cannot expect them to actually rule themselves. They need a "civilized minority" to "raise them up" to "human status". And that will, of course, "take a long time".

Plenty of time to establish a new capitalist class. (!)


"The members of the [Bakuninist] Alliance on the other hand had been preaching for years that no part should be taken in a revolution that did not have as its aim the immediate and complete emancipation of the working class, that political action of any kind implied recognition of the State, which was the root of all evil, and that therefore participation in any form of elections was a crime worthy of death"--Engels

An interesting report and, I think, very revealing of Engels' ultimate drift towards social democracy.

Engels is suggesting here that the Spanish working class would "advance" in both influence and consciousness by participating in parliamentary elections and, further, that this is what the working class actually wanted to do.

But what should we--plural pronoun--conclude from this report? Is it reasonable to say that in the early period of bourgeois revolution, communists should participate in mass working class parties that run candidates?

Even if that is a "fair conclusion", it hardly has any relevance to us...who live in advanced capitalist countries where bourgeois electoral politics have long been revealed as a sham and a delusion.

Do you want to argue that Bakunin and his supporters were "utopian" in 1873? Ok. I can live with that...since I don't live in 1873.

Neither do you.


What you see and what has happened in the world are two entirely different things. I have seen rapid movement in practice.

Contrary to the views of my critics, I'm always willing to be corrected by evidence.

If there is a Leninist party that no longer insists on the primary role of the "vanguard party", show me!


Rubbish, that was a war situation.

I'm not talking about post-1918. When the soviets first emerged, both in 1905 and 1917, the initial Bolshevik reaction was to boycott them as "irrelevant".

"All Power to the Soviets" was a late Bolshevik slogan; their earlier slogan was "Down With the 10 Capitalist Ministers"...suggesting that they initially saw the "road to power" as leading through the Provisional Government.

I think it was in late August or early September (1917) that the Bolsheviks began to realize that they did not "need" the increasingly weak Provisional Government to "gain power". I know that Stalin made a speech to party workers in late August that it "might not be necessary to wait for proletarian revolution in the west; Russia could lead the way".


The insolence of office is a form of bureaucratism that democratic centralist principles would not tolerate.

But it was tolerated...and even encouraged.


The political paradigm is neither Leninistic or does it have anything to do with democratic centralism.

This gets more and more...etherial. Are all self-described Leninists fakers? Or fuckups? Including Lenin himself?


It [is] easier than having to face the veracity of democratic centralism which is designed to bring out the best results from the spontaneity of the working class...

What veracity? Where is it to be found? The link that you posted concerns a self-described "tendency" that is currently operating within the Scottish Socialist Party. It doesn't claim to be a "revolutionary party" itself at all.

It evidently looks to Trotsky for guidance...but does not claim, at this point, to even be a "vanguard" in the Leninist sense at all.

I would wait and see what happens when they either "take over" the SSP or split off and set up their own independent organization.

I would also suggest that "new formations" in the Leninist paradigm can be quite "democratic" and even "informal" and "spontaneous" in their early years. That was, in fact, my experience in the early and middle 1960s. It actually took seven or eight years before the rot really set in.

That's not unusual. The American Communist Party was quite lively in the 1920s, less so in the 30s, a graveyard in the 40s.


If you want to criticise democratic centralism, please base it on its own terms. People still try to practice it. Believe it or not!!!

I'm not good at "believing" stuff in the absence of evidence. If you think that "democratic" centralism v.300 will "really work" this time, that's up to you.

As to the rules of the First International, the proverbial "wild-eyed anarchist" would be well-advised to note the power of the General Council to appoint additional members to that body without consulting the Congress (the last sentence of Rule 4). That's a "loophole" that could be exploited.

But Rule 1 is the crucial text...


This Association is established to afford a central medium of communication and co-operation between workingmen's societies existing in different countries and aiming at the same end; viz., the protection, advancement, and complete emancipation of the working classes.

There is no power of command here. Co-operation is not the same as obedience.

The organizational difference between the First International and a 20th century Leninist party is found in the position of secretary of the national sections. In the First International, that position is filled by an election in that country. In a "democratic" centralist party, higher bodies appoint the leaders of lower bodies. If Marx had wanted to "be" Lenin, he would have had the rules written in such a way as to provide for the appointment of national secretaries by the General Council...turning it into a "politburo".

He declined to do this...I wonder why?
First posted at Che-Lives on December 21, 2003


Obedience is the bottom line for you.

Actually, it's one factor among many. But it's obvious that any political formation that emphasizes obedience as a "virtue" is highly suspicious. If you examine fascist political writings, you will discover that obedience to authority is one of their core values.

That's not to argue that Leninists "are fascists"--it is simply to point out the reactionary nature of a principle characteristic of Leninist parties.


Many parties call themselves Leninist which are basically Stalinist and/or
reformist. This is not the fault of Leninism, yet you insist that it is.

Why is it "not" the "fault" of Leninism? Lenin himself "showed the way" at the 10th Party Congress in March 1921 (when the civil war was essentially over). Any organized attempt to change the party's line or its leadership was prohibited. Both Stalin and Trotsky enthusiastically agreed. (Trotsky changed his mind...when it was too late.)

I'm always willing, by the way, to grant the existence of historical "anomalies". Categories are not always "neat" and "tidy" in the real world. The groups in Scotland to which you refer may, indeed, be entirely different from and far superior to the general world record of Leninist parties. But I have read--at least briefly--of internal struggles in Trotskyist parties in the U.K. My impression is that the leaders of those groups behaved "just like Stalinists". They reacted to dissent with maneuvers, followed by expulsions.

I think my American experiences are far closer to the "Leninist norm" than yours.


You really think that Marx did not look through previous writers on the State to enrich his thinking?

You don't seem to know very much about how a PhD is written.

Well, Marx was extraordinarily well-read, even by the high standards of his time. If I'm not mistaken, he wrote his PhD. Thesis on the Epicureans. And, of course, he probably read everything by Hegal...and more than once. (What a waste!)

But my impression of Marx as a scholar and a scientist is that he would have been far more interested in actual material evidence than in philosophical speculations.

I can confirm your speculation regarding my ignorance of "how a PhD. [thesis] is written"...I've never attempted such an exercise myself.


You seem to think that uncoordinated attacks by the Iraq resistance is ideal. It proves leadership and command structures are fallacious. I reckon it means more deaths to innocent Iraqis, assuming that the resistance is not 'innocent' itself.

The import of this statement is unclear to me. Do you mean to suggest that the Iraqi resistance is killing "innocent Iraqis" because it lacks a "proper command structure"? Or do you mean to imply that the lack of a "proper command structure" results in the deaths of "innocent Iraqis" because the occupation forces cannot determine who is an enemy and who isn't...and therefore kills at random?

Either alternative seems to me to be beside the point. The fact of the matter is that the Iraqi resistance is effectively opposing U.S. imperialism without the kind of "command structure" that Leninist doctrine insists is "necessary".

The major Leninist party in Iraq, by the way, is collaborating with the occupation troops. I think they even have their party leader as a member of the quisling "government".

It ought to make you think.


"Unity is a fundamental question of survival for the working class, but it is in the nature of an oppressed class, that if it is to emancipate itself, unity cannot be achieved by 'orders from above.'"

Yes, that is a fine sentiment. I agree completely. Historically, Leninists have not agreed. The evidence for this is overwhelming and spreads across the entire planet.

I am continually astonished that you can deny this...or say that it's "not really Leninism, it's bureaucratism or Stalinism". I know that it's customary in Trotskyist circles to "blame Uncle Joe" for anything that goes wrong...but don't you ever weary of the "devil theory" of 20th century "communism"?

Comrade Trotsky speaks (in March 1921)...


They [the workers' opposition] have come out with dangerous slogans. They have made a fetish of democratic principles. They have placed the workers' right to elect representatives above the party. As if the Party were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship clashed with the passing moods of the workers' democracy!...The Party is obliged to maintain its dictatorship...regardless of temporary vacillations even in the working class...The dictatorship does not base itself at every moment on the formal principle of a workers' democracy.

Trotsky was a good Leninist, the squawks from Stalinists notwithstanding.


You make a mockery of a principle of working class organisation...When this 'rule' of democratic centralism is one of the very reasons why Leninism has been so influential on the international movement.

And you are, it seems, trying to have it both ways...

Argument 1: "Democratic" centralism is "really democratic" and that's why Leninism was "so influential" in the 20th century.


Argument 2: The Leninists in the 20th century were bureaucratic fuckups who never really put "democratic" centralism into practice...and that's why all their revolutions turned to shit.

Which is it?


If you have to be in the TUC hall at 9am and you are arguing about methods of presentation till 4am. I think it is eminently practical to cut short the 'democracy'.

Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the political circumstances. My limited experience suggests that the more a struggle "heats up", the more people are energized and want to talk about what to do next and why. As an admittedly extreme example, I would cite the student assembly at the Sorbonne in May 1968...which was in plenary session, 24/7, throughout the month--it never adjourned. It's my understanding that the Russian soviets also tended towards having very lengthy sessions...until they lost/gave away their powers to the Bolsheviks.


Now to Engels' drift towards social democracy...evidence please.

That's "common knowledge", I would think. As I recall, he was "guest of honor" at a huge German Social Democratic Party convention (1891?) and spoke before two enormous portraits of Marx and himself.

I didn't mean to suggest that he abandoned his revolutionary outlook, by the way. The electoral successes of German Social Democracy were very "intoxicating" and "everyone" thought that the "parliamentary road to socialism" was a "realistic possibility", at least in Germany and possibly in England and the United States. It may have been the case that Engels privately harbored doubts about that...I'm not sure that could be determined. But I know of nothing in the way of public discourse that suggests that Engels foresaw the collapse of social democracy in 1914. I don't think anyone did.


The practice of calling oneself a workers' state when one is not in such a formation, is just wrong.

Don't tell me, tell them. It's what they all claimed to be...with trivial verbal distinctions. If they are all "liars", that's hardly my responsibility.

I have the impression--correct me if I'm wrong--that only if a Leninist-Trotskyist party came to power would you be willing to award them the honor of "real workers' state". If I am right about that, then permit me to suggest that you are simply displaying your sectarian bias. You want "your favorite version" of Leninism to "run the show" and not one of your "competitors".

The squabble over "market share" by competing Leninist parties is a matter of indifference to me.


The thing is, a workers' state can only be established when socialism is the dominant mode of production in the world; anything else is embryonic.

I have no idea what this statement actually means...other than it seems to imply that any "shortcomings" of any Leninist party in power can always be "excused" by the fact that socialism doesn't yet "dominate the world".

The Stalinists like this argument a lot, too. It "gets them off the hook" for all their fuckups...or, at least, they think it does.


October ended World War I...

Now, that's just silly.


...not that workers lives seem all that an important victory for you.

And that's just insulting.


The important thing is to criticise the authoritarianism of the command structure. This is posited as the reason for the failure of world revolution. It is just not so.

Of course it's not. In a "large" sense, the world proletarian revolution has not taken place yet simply because material conditions have not yet matured to make it possible.

But the abortive attempt to construct a revolutionary movement around the Leninist paradigm--though it reflected material reality--was actually counter-productive. It was wrong about how communists should organize themselves; it was wrong about the relationship between communists and the working class as a whole; and it was wrong about the shape of post-capitalist society.

Had Leninism never existed, we might be having proletarian revolutions within the next 10 years...instead of 30 or 50 or 80 years from now. That's sheer speculation on my part, of course. "What if" is always an indeterminate exercise.

But, at the very least, without Lenin and his followers, it would be much harder for the ruling class to intimidate people with lurid fantasies about "communism = labor camps & mass murder".


In these circumstances, it is easier to turn to the anti-authoritarianism of anarchism: be nice, propagate the fantasy, go to demos, and wait for the spontaneous movement of the working class to establish the disappearance of the State.

Yes, I am guilty of "waiting" for the working class to "spontaneously" "smash the state", though I do what I can to encourage them.

I already know that the Leninists won't do it...ever.
First posted at Che-Lives on December 22, 2003


Leninism is so amorphous internationally that to give it a single paradigm is more foolish than giving a single paradigm to the clowning of monkeys.

I am not familiar with the behavior of small primates, so I will defer to your judgment.

But the Leninist paradigm is quite easy to summarize...

1. The working class cannot make a successful proletarian revolution without the leadership of a centralized and disciplined revolutionary party.

2. That party must operate via "democratic centralism"--lower bodies are subordinate to higher bodies; members must work under the direction of one of the party's bodies; every member must carry out the party's decisions without public dissent; no organized opposition to the party's line or its leadership is permitted (Trotskyists do extend a limited toleration to such opposition). Lower bodies have the nominal right to vote on some policies and on the membership of higher bodies...but this rarely means anything as alternatives to the policies and the personalities of the leadership are rarely permitted to exist...especially after a decade or so of "maturity".

3. Such a party, if it gains state power, must rule with "an iron fist"--it cannot be diverted from its "correct understanding" by the "passing whims" of the working class. The party's "theoretical mastery" gives it both the "right" and the "duty" to dominate all political life. It calls this arrangement a "workers' state" and "socialism".

This is the paradigm found among all kinds of Leninist parties across the world. Not that they don't have other disagreements, rivalries, squabbles, etc. But I think those are secondary...important primarily to themselves.

And some of them, occasionally, are quite capable of making a sound Marxist analysis of a particular long as their specifically Leninist beliefs are not involved. Not everything they write is crap.

But, most of the time, one or another of their central dogmas is involved...with predictably disastrous results. Usually, they miscalculate so badly (to the right or, less often, to the left), that they piss away any chance they might have had to "seize power".

When they do "get it right" and find themselves in power, they proceed in accordance with No. 3 above, become corrupt, and in the due course of time turn into a new capitalist ruling class.

That's the Leninist paradigm.


A workers state is best viewed through the prism of this quote from the Manifesto. "...the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible."

Marx and Engels formulated this "strategy"--a method of managing the transition from capitalism to communism--in 1847. It bears the marks of that era.

Consider the phrase "winning the battle of democracy". In 1847, bourgeois democracy was considered "revolutionary" in Europe...the vast majority of workers and peasants did not have the right to vote.

Thirty-odd years later, this phrase was combined with "wrest by degree all capital from the bourgeoisie" to provide the theoretical foundation for social democracy. The working class would use its parliamentary majority to "centralize all means of production in the hands of the state".

This is the "Marxism" that Bakunin polemicized against...a "Marxism" that I think Marx was referring to when he bluntly declared that he "was no Marxist".

The revolutionary core of Marxism has an altogether different content. The working class should overthrow and smash the old bourgeois state machinery...not try to "use" it to "wrest capital by degree from the bourgeoisie".

Whatever the kind of "workers' state" he had in mind, it was clearly far closer to the Paris Commune than to the USSR.

The Paris Commune, of course, was essentially spontaneous in origin and "ultra-democratic". There was no "vanguard" present.

It was probably the last time that Marx and Bakunin ever agreed about anything.

That was then; this is now. What I see, as I noted earlier, is a convergence of Marxist and anarchist theory. I think there will be more and much larger "Paris Communes", beginning in Western Europe and spreading rapidly into South America and Asia.

But I don't know when this will happen...hence the "wait". We can do other things "while we wait", of course. Hopefully, they will help to "speed things along".

I suppose all this could appear as "a leap of faith" to some; it's a very different perspective from that of either social democracy or Leninism. The latter two paradigms had well-developed "plans"--we do A, and then we do B, and then we do C, etc. It sounded "plausible". It sounded like it "ought to work".

But neither one did work. So we are left with the alternatives: spontaneous proletarian revolution or capitalism really is "the end of history".

If faced with two "absurd" alternatives, I say we pick the "least absurd".

What do we have to lose?
First posted at Che-Lives on December 22, 2003


Your last post did not raise Iraq.

Because the only reason I brought it up in the first place was as an illustration of the strength of spontaneous mass struggle. Do you want to divert this discussion into a lengthy digression on Iraq?


[You did not] mention, in any real sense, the international nature of the Workers State as a projected future.

No, I responded earlier with this...


I have no idea what this statement actually means...other than it seems to imply that any "shortcomings" of any Leninist party in power can always be "excused" by the fact that socialism doesn't yet "dominate the world".

The Stalinists like this argument a lot, too. It "gets them off the hook" for all their fuckups...or, at least, they think it does.

The only thing I can add to that is that it seems to me your "workers' state" is exists in the realm of the spirit, untouched by "base" material reality.


"Lower bodies must subordinate themselves to higher bodies". SHITE!

Your one paradigm is not only mistaken, it is a lie.

Not only that, it is a FUCKING, FUCKING, FUCKING LIE.

Very well, let us speak of lying.

In my naivetι, I thought it would be a fairly quick and easy task to go to, copy and paste a summary of the principles of democratic centralism from a source that you would agree is authentic, and type this reply.

So I went to the entry on "democratic" centralism and found...a bunch of stuff that you had already posted! I was particularly outraged (not at them!) that they actually changed the subject in the entry...and instead of clearly defining the principles of "democratic" centralism, just regurgitated a bunch of platitudes about "proletarian democracy".

That's lying!

So I had to do it "the hard way". I suspect that somewhere buried in those archives is the statement that I want, but this will have to do...

From the 21 Conditions for joining the Communist International (attributed to Lenin himself)


12. The periodical and non-periodical press, and all publishing enterprises, must likewise be fully subordinate to the Party Central Committee, whether the party as a whole is legal or illegal at the time. Publishing enterprises should not be allowed to abuse their autonomy and pursue any policies that are not in full accord with that of the Party.

13. Parties belonging to the Communist International must be organised on the principle of democratic centralism. In this period of acute civil war, the Communist parties can perform their duty only if they are organised in a most centralised manner, are marked by an iron discipline bordering on military discipline, and have strong and authoritative party centres invested with wide powers and enjoying the unanimous confidence of the membership.

16...As a rule, the programmes of all parties belonging to the Communist International must be approved by a regular Congress of the Communist International or by its Executive Committee. In the event of the Executive Committee withholding approval, the party is entitled to appeal to the Congress of the Communist International.

17. All decisions of the Communist International ’s congresses and of its Executive Committee are binding on all affiliated parties...

--emphasis added. Terms of Admission into the Communist International

The import, I think, is clear...though perhaps only the Stalinists were "brazen" enough to set forth the principles of "democratic" centralism in forms similar to my earlier summary of the Leninist paradigm.

When Trotsky himself was consulted (in 1937) by dissidents in the American Socialist Workers Party for a clear statement on "democratic" centralism, he weaseled shamelessly.

So, you see, it's not "shite" nor is it a "fucking, fucking, fucking lie". In "democratic" centralism, "lower bodies" are subordinate to "higher bodies". The "big dogs" growl and the "little dogs" roll over on their backs in submission.


Even in my own experience I have, by my own initiative, over-ruled from a position of relative non experience, the decision of a central committee.

It was an instant "call for" that acted,in my opinion, in the interests of the class of a whole.

I could have been expelled by my decision, but I fought for my decision; not only did I win but,in my opinion, I changed the nature of the organisation.

Yes, I'm sure that on very rare occasions that happens...though I suspect it never happens in a Leninist party with state power.

But I don't wish to detract from your victory or the sense of satisfaction that you gained from it. I've had the experience myself of "going out on that lonely limb" and, by sheer force of persuasive argument, winning a change of direction in the struggle, a change for the better.

Your achievement, however, is superior to mine. I did it in the context of a mass movement; I don't think I ever could have managed it, as you did, within a Leninist party.

The common thread in all your posts during this discussion seems to be--correct me if I'm wrong--that some form of Trotskyist Leninism will "rescue" that paradigm and will actually result in a victorious working class revolution.

No one can completely rule out that possibility.

But frankly, I've seen no reliable evidence that Trotskyists--as an overall movement--have done anything except "blame Stalin" for everything that went wrong. Without a critique of Leninism, I think you are doomed to repeat all of Stalin's mistakes, if perhaps not his "crimes".

If I'm wrong, so be it.

But I don't think I am.
First posted at Che-Lives on December 23, 2003

Here, I think, are the relevant extracts from the Turkish Leninist party link that you provided...


3) Duties of the member of the party...

d) To fall in line with the Party statute and discipline.

e) To defend the fundamental principles, ideological political line and organizational unity of the party against all deviations and factional separatist attacks.

6) Party Congress

b)...The rules of representation in the Congress and methods of election of delegates are determined by the Central Committee.

7) Central Committee (CC)

a) The Central Committee is the highest body of the Party in between two congresses. It leads all activities of the Party within the framework of the programme, statute and the general lines determined by the congress. It administrates the central publications and organizational practical works of the Party. It allocates the power and assets of the Party. It establishes various Party organs and if necessary removes them from office.

f) In between two congresses the CC has the authority to convene local or national party conferences of all sorts. The CC determines the method of electing delegates to conferences. The resolutions of national conferences are put into effect only if approved by the CC and binds the Party as a whole.

8) Provincial Committee (PC)

a) Provincial Committee is a local administrative body, which rules all activities of the party bodies within areas it is in charge of, within the framework of decisions and orders of the CC...

b) Provincial committees are formed by the CC. PCs, when formed, can make changes in their composition on condition of approval of the CC...

9) Cell

c)...The basic duties of a party cell are to execute the line of the party, its decisions and orders...

11) Democratic centralism principle means as follows:

a) An individual depends on the organization, minority on majority, sub bodies on upper bodies, all organization on the CC...

c) Decisions of superior bodies are absolutely binding for sub bodies affiliated with them and for members.

15) The basic method of eliminating all mistakes and debilities, correcting the faults and solving the problems is criticism and self criticism...

16) The Party members have the untouchable right to discuss all problems of the policy of the Party in all the Party bodies and as a whole, and it is a basic requirement of the inner democracy within the Party. This right cannot be used as to break the unity of will and action of the Party, to weaken it.

A general discussion on a problem of the Party policy is started by a decision of the CC or by a demand of one thirds of the existing PCs or the members. The method of the discussion is determined by the CC.

18) Within the Party horizontal organizational relations are banned. No bodies or members of the Party can enter into relations with bodies and members, except for with sub bodies they are in charge of and super bodies they are affiliated with, without relating information to and getting confirmation from the authoritative bodies.

emphasis added, of course.

It seems to me that you have provided a perfect illustration of my general critique of the Leninist paradigm...the provisions in this party's statutes insure that the Central Committee "runs the show".

I think an inspection of all Leninist parties everywhere would reveal the same structure (with minor variations).

And with the same prospects. Most likely they will never amount to anything but another irrelevant sect. But should they actually be successful and come to power, the "workers' state" they will erect will be ruled by their Central was the case in the USSR and elsewhere. There's nothing in their statutes that even hints at any other possible outcome.
First posted at Che-Lives on December 24, 2003
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