The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

On Leninism May 7, 2003 by RedStar2000

This is a group of posts that I made at Che-Lives on the subject of Leninism, "great leaders", what working class power really means, etc.

It's a subject that comes up constantly; there will be, I'm sorry to say, many more in this series.


The problem is that your question is not a very good one.

The phrase "last true leader" suggests that when Fidel retires or dies, it will be the end of the line for us.

I can see why you would make an assumption like that; all of 20th century communism revolved around various and sundry "great leaders" and those who wanted to be. It was once thought that all you had to do was "pick a great leader" and "follow and obey" and communism would be achieved.

I hope we are finally in the process of learning better than that. Communist revolution is something achieved by an entire class; it is not the result of clever maneuvers by a "gifted elite" or "grand historical figure".

In a way, it would be good if Fidel is that "last true leader"...perhaps then we'd get that stupid "leadership monkey" off our backs and realize that we must all be "leaders" or communism ain't gonna happen.

I can't help but smile, though, when someone mentions "leadership skills" in a serious tone of voice.

For example, sincerity is very important; if you can fake that, you're on your way to the top.
First posted at Che-Lives, April 30, 2003

Well, to answer your question briefly, no, I am in no sense a "Leninist"...though I might well have been one in Petrograd in 1917. Being determines consciousness, as you know, and in the heady atmosphere of that time and place, I might well have been a Leninist, a Trotskyist or, perhaps given my mind-set, a "Kollontai-ist" she may have been the most thoroughly left Bolshevik and was sufficiently prominent to be in the politburo. (She quit in disgust when the politburo refused to provide direct military assistance to the communist uprising in Finland...that was subsequently crushed by German troops.)

Yes, Marx did indeed call for a "dictatorship of the proletariat"...a quasi-state apparatus that would have as its primary purpose the final crushing of bourgeois counter-revolutionary resistance.

There is no indication, in theory or in practice, that Marx endorsed either personal dictatorship in the form of "a great leader" or any kind of "elite" dictatorship over the working class itself. Marx's own practice as General Secretary of the First International demonstrated his idea of "leadership"--vigorous advocacy for what he believed to be the correct position on this or that; rigorous respect for the decision-making authority of the membership.

The concept of a "vanguard leadership" and an elite dictatorship was a Leninist "patch" on the Marxist "program"...its purpose was to allow the program to be run on a "backward operating system": a semi-feudal society dominated by a superstitious peasantry.

Don't get me wrong, Leninism "works" in that environment. Of course it can't really achieve socialism, much less communism. But it does create the neccessary material conditions for the transition from feudalism to capitalism at a historically rapid pace...and does so in an era in which the emerging bourgeoisie in those semi-feudal countries are too "feeble" to resist the demands of imperialism.

What is really harmful about Leninism is the attempt to apply it in advanced capitalist countries. The working class is sufficiently advanced as to understand almost at once that Leninism will simply replace old bosses with new ones. Who needs that?

In practice, the Leninist parties in the west have been almost always reformist, even if the rhetoric was sometimes better. The German KPD was probably the "best" of the lot; the French CPF was almost certainly the worst. But all the accounts I have come across report a "stifling" mental atmosphere in which obedience to authority was the "highest virtue" of a communist. No wonder they've all flopped!

The actual effect of 20th century Leninism in the west has been to discredit Marx (see the parade of threads on this board about how we need to "re-brand" ourselves to escape his "demonic reputation" ). This will take decades of work to overcome.

Just in case you were wondering, I am not now nor will I ever be a candidate for "leader" of anything.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 1, 2003

Well, my basic response to your post is that you simply assert things to be true that seem to me to be dubious or wrong.

Perhaps on paper the procedures that you describe in North Korea fact, perhaps they exist in reality...but neither you nor I have any first-hand reliable knowledge of what really goes on there.

Looking at revolutions where we do have a multitude of first-hand sources, such as Russia or Spain or the May 1968 events in France, what is the first thing we notice? The tremendous ferment among the masses, the raging debates, the furious controversies, the struggle not merely against the material power of the old ruling class but against what Marx called "all the old shit."

Where is even the faintest hint, the merest trace of such ferment in North Korea? All we hear from North Korea (be it true or not) is "praise to the Great Leader".

Do you really believe that communism is simply a bunch of hard-working ants busy doing ant-stuff without a thought of anything else?

What a stunted, dismal, boring vision of communism.

Marx had a name for this (as he had for many things): he called it barracks communism and Prussian communism. He had a pretty low opinion of it.

So do I.

It has been asserted millions of times that Leninism is a "natural development" of Marxism...but that doesn't make it true. There is nothing in Marx about vanguard parties or "great leaders". There is nothing in Marx about "socialist" revolutions in pre-capitalist countries. The notion of "professional revolutionary" cannot be found in Marx, nor the idea that the working class can "only develop trade-union consciousness". No reference can be found in Marx to the idea of "democratic centralism". Even the idea of socialism as a transition stage to communism is un-Marxist...Marx spoke simply of a lower and higher stage of communism, and only in terms of distribution of the products and wealth created by the new society. There is nothing in Marx about worker-peasant alliances or "people's democracies" not to mention the wonderful Soviet neologism "the toiling intelligentsia" (meaning: bureaucrats, apparatchiki).

In fact, the only real "Marxist" work by Lenin is Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. (I'm not counting State and Revolution because he just copied everything from Marx and Engels in that one.)

Lenin -- along with Hilferding and Luxembourg -- did draw a logical extension of Marx's thought in that work. When we oppose U.S. imperialism everywhere in the world today, we are carrying on the political consequences of that tradition.

But, that's it. All the rest of Leninism is a patch. If it were written "Marxism + Leninism", the relationship, both historical and logical, would be a lot clearer.

(Maoism, by the way, is a logical extension of Leninism...if your group called itself "Leninist-Maoist" that would be much closer to an accurate ideological description.)

On one matter, you seem to have missed my point altogether. I said that the working class in the advanced capitalist countries have been quick to recognize Leninism as just a new bunch of boss-wannabes...and somehow you converted that into a non-class issue of abstract leaders, followers, and rebels. No, it is a class issue: all bosses are bad!

The fact that other political tendencies have noted the undemocratic nature of "democratic" centralism and use that observation in polemics against Leninism is not of much concern to me; the kinds of people that I think you are referring to have not exactly been models of democratic practice themselves.

But it concerns me, and should concern you even more, that you actually know some folks who are itching to get their greedy paws on the "levers of power".

By the time they could possibly seize power, I'll already be wormshit; what might they do to you if you get out of line?

Think about it.

First posted at Che-Lives on May 4, 2003

I don't wish to be "unfair" or to hold you to a higher standard than I set for myself. None of us are in any position to substantiate "to the hilt" everything we say on a message board.

Nevertheless, if you want to say that B is a "logical extension" or "development" of A, then there has to be some connection between the two that is more than simple terminology...or assertion.

To the best of my knowledge, the sum total of the writings of Marx and Engels on how communists should organize themselves is zero...except that passing remark in Section II of the Manifesto where it is specifically said that "the communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties".

You can argue, of course, that Lenin "filled in" those "blank spaces" in Marxism with his own idea for a "vanguard party" of "professional revolutionaries".

Is his idea Marxist? And is his idea any good?

The documented answer is clearly no to the first question. As to the second question, the experience of history is that Leninism works...but only in pre-capitalist countries. In the advanced capitalist countries, it has pretty much always degenerated into what Lenin himself properly called "parliamentary cretinism".

So when you assert that Leninism is a "development" of Marxism, this seems to me to be a case of saying something is true when, upon critical examination, it is clearly not true.

First posted at Che-Lives on May 4, 2003

I probably wouldn't be nearly as much of a "hardass" on this subject if the Leninists followed your suggestion...and simply dropped their "Marxist" pretensions altogether.

As I said to someone in another thread, if his group called itself "Leninist-Maoist", that would make both ideological and historical sense. Maoism is very directly derived from Leninism; it is Leninism v.2.0.

But you know, they are not going to do that...any more then Coke is going to drop Coke Classic. Too many people are aware, at least dimly, that Marx and Engels have "something to do" with the idea of emancipation from wage-slavery.

That's "too good" to let go of, even though all the Leninists that I've heard of or read about have, at best, very distant plans in that direction. The immediate Leninist plan in every country is: "Put Us in Power and we'll treat you better than the bosses you have now." But they want to be bosses...and I think that's very clear in everything they say.

And that perspective has nothing in common with Marxism.

As to the Leninist-Maoist global strategy--that "socialism" will sweep across the pre-capitalist and semi-feudal countries, chopping out the material supports of the imperialist countries...causing, at long last, proletarian revolution in the "west"--I'm sceptical, to say the least.

First, because if Marx was right, you can't "skip" stages of class society...and his judgment appears to have been confirmed by the restoration of capitalism in Russia and China.

Secondly, because the "kind" of "socialism" that Leninism-Maoism creates is um, er, not exactly what we had in mind.

I mean, who the hell wants to live in a fucking barracks...even one with red flags tacked to the walls?
First posted at Che-Lives on May 6, 2003
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