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What Kind of "Marxism" is Leninism? August 12, 2003 by RedStar2000


Was Lenin's USSR really what Marx and Engels had in mind when they used the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat"?

Was Lenin's party the kind of party that Marx and Engels had in mind?

Was Lenin's conception of class consciousness consistent with Marx's views?

How do some modern Leninists view "human nature"?

Yes, it's yet another tour of LeninLand...thank you for your patience.


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The defining work of Leninism is What is to be Done? written at the beginning of the 20th century. When Lenin wrote this small book, he was a "Kautskyist"...that is, a supporter of Karl Kautsky's German Social Democracy, heir to Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel and, of course, Engels himself.

It was Lenin's inspiration (if that's the right word) to recognize that the parliamentary strategy of social democracy "would not work" in the autocracy that was the Russian Empire.

Probably borrowing from earlier Russian revolutionary traditions (nihilists?), Lenin developed the concept of a "vanguard party of professional revolutionaries" that would operate underground to organize resistance to the old regime.

Naturally, such a party had to be highly disciplined and at least quasi-militarized. It also had to consist of people who already had considerable political sophistication--in the Russia of that era, that meant mostly middle-class intellectuals (Stalin was very much an exception to the usual class background of the early Bolsheviks).

It was never expected, in those long-ago days, that Russia would have a proletarian revolution. All trends of Russian revolutionary thought more or less expected a capitalist revolution (Engels was predicting it back in the 1870s).

Thus, Lenin never thought that his "vanguard party" was anything more than the nucleus of an eventual mass Social Democratic party that would take its place among like-minded parties in Europe after the Czarist autocracy was overthrown and Russia became a bourgeois republic.

And it's worth noting that although there was not a great deal of internal democracy in the early Bolshevik party, there was some. In particular, there was quite a bit of "freedom of discussion"...Lenin may have made most of the substantive decisions, but people openly criticized him in the party press and did so without any kind of "punishment".

History might well suggest that it was Lenin's success that was his undoing. The Bolshevik apparatus was remarkably well-suited for revolutionary struggle under Russian conditions and did win a substantial degree of working-class support in the new industrial complexes in Russia, particulary in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

When the Bolsheviks took a position of uncompromising opposition to World War I and the war went badly for the Russian aristocracy, the Bolsheviks looked stronger and stronger. When the mass revolution took place in February 1917, the Bolsheviks were the only political party with a clear record of opposition to "all the old shit".

By the summer of 1917, it must have dawned on Lenin and many other Bolsheviks that the new Russian bourgeois ruling class was extraordinarily weak...that it might very well be possible to overthrow them and proceed to a socialist revolution. If there were socialist revolutions in the rest of Europe (many thought that inevitable), then Russian backwardness could be overcome and it might be possible to "skip the capitalist stage" in Russia altogether...or, at least, minimize its intensity and duration.

Most of what we now think of as Leninism derives from those optimistic conclusions. The "vanguard party" went on to rule "on behalf of the workers"; the lines between socialism and state capitalism essentially vanished; much of "the old shit" was revived; etc., etc.

Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao all developed their own versions of Leninism, of course, and whenever you hear a group call themselves "Marxist-Leninist", it usually means a little bit of Marx, a little more of Lenin, and a generous chunk of one or more of those three guys.

By now, the variants of Leninism have theoretically exhausted themselves...there's really been nothing of any significance since Mao. (Note that there is no "Marxism-Castroism" for example.)

In backward countries (peasant revolutions), Maoism is still a vital force. It "works" in those material conditions. But in the "first world", almost all Leninist parties have become reformist--they either support "left" bourgeois parties or run their own candidates in bourgeois elections...proposing an "orderly" and "gradual" transition to "socialism". Internally, they resemble a church far more than they resemble Lenin's early Bolshevik party...dissent is rare and usually punished by excommunication (expulsion).

Those who want to mount a revolutionary opposition to capitalism in the "first world" have returned to Marx and what he really meant by proletarian revolution and the replacement of capitalism by communism.

To be "just a" Marxist or communist these days still sounds strange to people's ears. The shadow of Lenin and his heirs is a long one and we still have considerable distance to travel before we get out of it altogether.

But progress is being made.
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First posted at Che-Lives on July 27, 2003
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I am sure most of us are aware about the historical context in which Lenin formulated the notion. To be very brief, Lenin formulated the context to underline the necessity for a revolutionary party to possess a modicum of discipline and efficiency. Before the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, the Russian SDLP resembled a debating club or student union more than it did a revolutionary party. In the interests of efficiency and survival, Lenin advocated the notion of the vanguard.


That's a bit misleading. The reason Lenin wanted a "vanguard party" in the first place is because the kind of party that he actually admired--the German Social Democratic Party--was impossible under Russian conditions. It was not simply a matter of "debating club" vs. disciplined cadre...it was what could "work" under Russian conditions.

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...that Lenin believed that the principles of "democratic centralism" should govern internal party relations. This implied the necessity for discussions, debate, the free exchange of ideas and democratic decision making. However, once decisions have been made based on the decisions and ideas of the majority of the party membership then all party members should adhere to the decisions and implement the decisions of the majority.


Lenin may have thought it should work like that...but it didn't.

In practice, the major decisions were made by Lenin and his inner circle and "ratified" by party congresses later (if ever).

Secondly, I noted that in Lenin's party there certainly was a great deal of discussion and debate...even in the pages of the party press--that is, right out in public. That has long since ceased to be the practice in modern Leninist parties; in their own eyes, the ideal "public" presence of a Leninist party is a solid monolith of iron unity. And there ain't much that happens out of the public eye either...there's never much discussion in a group where discussion is pointless.

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For Lenin, the notion of the vanguard party implied a group of the most class conscious, the most advanced workers and communists.


It may have "implied" that, but I don't think the Bolsheviks had a majority of its members from the working class until well after February 1917. As I said, that's understandable considering the actual material conditions in Russia at the time.

Modern Leninist parties, of course, have often been considerably to the right not only of advanced class-conscious workers but even to the right of the bulk of the class itself.

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Communists and Communist parties should be the sources and the bearers of the most radical and thorough going critique of Capitalism and Capitalist social relations.


"Should" is the operative word here; it happened often with the Bolsheviks 1900-1918; it happened some with a number of parties in the 1920s; and it's tailed off drastically ever since.

Today, it is shameful to admit, most so-called "Marxists" trail far behind many anarchists in the vigor of their critique of capitalist society. I suspect the vast majority of "communist" parties today are "communist" in name only. There may be a few, very small exceptions to that...but you would have to look hard to find them.

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Basically Communists and CPs, should be the vanguard and the core of all opposition to the system. This implies that Communists and CPs, should develop the most radical positions on racism, national oppression, the exploitation and oppression of women.


Yeah, they should...but, for the most part, they don't!

What they do say is that they should "run the show" after the revolution. Should you actually know the "leaders" of a vanguard party, any party, just try to imagine what things would be like if they really did "run the show".
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First posted at Che-Lives on July 31, 2003
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Sorting this mess out does get tricky at times. A lot depends on the context of the reference.

Historically, Leninism and its successors (Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism) are all variants of Marxism.

That is just a way of saying that Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Mao all believed that they were Marxists, applying Marxist theory to their own immediate social conditions.

Nevertheless, it strikes me that there is a fundamental idealist core to Leninist ideology in all its forms.

Leninism assumes (as historical necessity, no less) that the "vanguard party" leads and directs the proletarian revolution...without it, nothing (of any significance) can happen.

That seems to me to be a fundamental departure from historical materialism...that the laws of capitalism create the conditions that make proletarian revolution unavoidable...whether or not there are any vanguard parties around and regardless of the "quality" of their "leadership".

The presence of revolutionary communists (or anarchists) can, at most, slightly accelerate that process--"ease the birth pangs of the new society" as Marx put it.

But it is the class that is "for itself" that actually makes the revolution and it does so only when material conditions provide the opportunity for success.

The idea that a small group of especially enlightened and perceptive people "can make it happen" (at a time and place of their choosing) as a "triumph of the will"...is really not Marxist at all; it's a kind of idealism.

Thus, Leninism (all kinds) is a historical descendent of Marxism but contains within its core assumptions an idea that is completely un-Marxist.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 2, 2003
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The proletariat needs organization, it can never rise without being organized.


But that's not really the issue. Does the proletariat spontaneously organize the forms of its liberation (the soviets, for example) or does it need a special cadre of "leaders" in advance (as the Leninists assert)?

We know, from history, that the proletariat does tend to organize itself in the act of rising. Thus, the Leninist thesis is false on the basis of the evidence alone.

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And the party is nothing but an approach to organize the uneducated masses.


Well, actually it's a lot more than that. But just consider that point by itself: if the problem is that the masses are "uneducated", then why not "educate" them to organize themselves?

In fact, I've been advocating that...inspite of the criticism that such is a "do-nothing" or "passive" approach.

At our best, I think we communists can show people why they should make a revolution (material conditions show them a lot better than we can)...but the idea that we can "lead" a revolution simply because we "know more" is just wacko. We do not "know more" than the whole working class and we never will. The collective experiences of an entire class are far beyond what a small group could learn...even if the whole party membership were all at the level of Marx and Engels.

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The party is nothing but the proletariat's conductor. A conductor the masses need.


But a revolution is not a symphony. That is a typical Leninist error...that somehow a small group of "gifted" or "brilliant" people can "impose order" on what is inherently disorderly.

When millions of people enter the world of conscious political activity, that changes everything.

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What do you mean [a class] 'for itself'?


When Marx spoke of the proletariat becoming "a class for itself", the phrase means more in the original German than it does in English.

It connotes a sense of pride in one's class, a kind of self-confidence in one's "fitness to rule".

Thus one would say that the bourgeoisie in the 19th century became a true "class for itself", no longer feeling any kind of special awe for its old aristocratic "superiors".

Marx asserted that the proletariat would develop that same sense vs. the bourgeoisie as the conditions for proletarian revolution matured.

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I ask you, RedStar, why should we stick to everything Marx said? Why shouldn't we try to improve and extend his ideas when it is for the proletarian cause? Why should we be dogmatic? There is nothing more anti-marxist than being dogmatic.


I agree completely. Marx and Engels were human beings, situated in history, with the same limitations that we all must inevitably suffer.

But when someone says: "Marx was wrong when he said X; I propose to substitute Y" -- then, we must ask ourselves: is Y truly superior to X? Does it fit the evidence better? Does it deepen our revolutionary understanding? Does it improve our ability to fight the prevailing social order?

I think Leninism fails on the basis of the answers to questions like that...not simply because it is "un-Marxist".

I was trying to answer a specific question: what kind of "Marxism" is Leninism...not what is wrong with Leninism.

The latter is a question I've discussed many times in many threads...and will probably have to do it again many more times.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 3, 2003
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I challenge you to show me one workers' uprising where the revolt was not guided by class conscious worker-revolutionists.


That's not a very clear question. But let's concentrate on that word "guided"...which sort of implies the presence of a Leninist party.

The 1905 uprising in Russia clearly qualifies...there were only a small handful of leftists involved and I can't imagine in what sense you could say that anything was "guided".

Even more instructive was the case of the February 1917 revolution...there were more lefties around by then but the numbers involved in the uprising itself were far greater--probably in the tens of millions.

Most recently, of course, was the nation-wide general strike in May of 1968...which was (initially) opposed by the French Communist Party...although some small Trotskyist and Maoist groups supported it, no one would suggest they "guided" it or that anyone did.

Significant uprisings, by their very nature, are probably not "guide-able".
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 3, 2003
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What do you think he meant by this:


When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class -K. Marx

As you can see (as comrade Lenin thought) this leaves quite a bit open to interpretation; thus the ideal of the "vanguard" is hardly against marxist philosophy.


Like much of the little that Marx and Engels wrote about post-capitalist society, it's ambiguous.

The phrase "in the course of development" sounds like a period of some years or even decades...certainly it would be difficult to argue against that interpretation.

But then Marx turns right around and speaks of the proletariat "sweeping away" by force the old conditions of production and thereby abolishing itself as a ruling class. That sounds to me like a pretty quick process, maybe a year or two at most.

Overall, I think he was uncertain and wrote that paragraph in such a way as to cover both possibilities.

But what is most relevant for this discussion is that he never speaks of political power in the hands of any small "more advanced" section of the proletariat (much less middle class intellectuals) but always speaks of the proletariat as a class.

If Marx or Engels actually thought a "vanguard" was the appropriate form of proletarian organization, they could have easily said so...they had many opportunities. Indeed, given the fact that they had only small groups of supporters in various European countries throughout nearly all of their lifetimes, it would have been very tempting for them to organize such a party, had they thought it appropriate.

From what I can tell, they preferred to emphasize mass rebellion of the proletariat; even their cooperation with the early German Social Democracy (with its emphasis on bourgeois elections) was clearly reluctant and they privately expressed misgivings about it.

It is quite possible that they would have endorsed a Leninist party for Russia (and other autocracies). We have no way of knowing. We do know that Engels was predicting (in the 1870s) that Russia would soon have its "1789"...a bourgeois revolution.

But I can't help but feel that they would view our contemprary Leninist sects--Stalinist, Trotskyist, Maoist--with the same contempt as they viewed the various "socialist" sects of their own time.

Pimples on the ass of the proletariat.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 3, 2003
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Sometimes these kinds of discussions can get a little bit...well, theological.

That is, what did Marx really mean when he said such-and-such? It almost sounds like preachers arguing over the exact meaning of some quip by Saulos of Tarsus.

This is particularly the case when people try to build up a whole structure of political theory on the basis of a few fragmentary remarks on "the dictatorship of the proletariat" and the transition between capitalism and communism.

For example, there is no possibility that the Leninist-Stalinist or the Maoist state can be "theoretically justified" by anything Marx or Engels ever said...simply because they would have flatly denied the possibility of communist revolution in those (or any) backward, almost pre-capitalist countries. A small, weak, and culturally underdeveloped proletariat cannot make a communist revolution in a predominately peasant country, period.

How much of a "state apparatus" Marx and Engels envisioned or how long it would be needed is as speculative as they were themselves about this.

It is clear (to me, at least) that when they used the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat"...they meant it in the same way as we speak of the present state apparatus as the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie"--they certainly did not imagine the rule of a small, tightly-disciplined and centralized party exercising a dictatorship over the proletariat.

I would further argue (at least on the basis of the evidence we have so far), that Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist socialism is not a "transition stage" to anything...except capitalism. Marx and Engels didn't know that would happen.

That there will and must be a period of transition is obvious. That one way to "name" that period is "the dictatorship of the proletariat" is poor public relations but technically accurate.

But what should actually be taking place in that period? The building up of a "workers' state apparatus" on a more or less permanent basis? Or the actual construction of communist relations of production?

I think answering that question is more important than attempting to "squeeze" an entire theory of "strong-state socialism" out of a few words of Marx...especially since those words were never intended to apply to pre-capitalist countries in the first place.

And there's this remark by Engels...

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Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.


Yes.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 5, 2003
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Here, I believe that Redstar to support a point he is making, tries to show us that because Marx-Engels did not foresee something or say something in their writings then logically this cannot happen or occur.


Well, not exactly. My point was really that you cannot legitimately derive a political theory about the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat from a starting point that they would have denied the possibility of existing.

If you want to argue that Lenin and his various political heirs created their versions of "socialism" in the context of material conditions completely different from what Marx and Engels saw as the foundations of communism, that's fair enough.

But I think Lenin, etc. were innovators...their theories have many parallels with Marxism but are not really Marxist.

Moreover, I have already conceded that, in particular, the Maoist variant "works" in backward countries...you really can overthrow imperialist domination and a colonial bourgeoisie/landed aristocracy in those countries.

But what you get is not really socialism or communism as Marx and Engels defined those terms.

In fact, what you have really accomplished is a bourgeois revolution by a rather tortured and twisting path...probably because imperialism makes the "direct path" impractical.

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...imagine a "peasant" society where say 80% of the peasants do not "own", they farm. In fact they are in one sense of the term, because of the processes of commoditisation of production and differentiation within the peasantry, converted into labor completely alienated from the means of production. If you like we could say that here we have a proto-rural proletariat.


Very well. 80% seems a bit high, but not impossible. Is the suggestion then that a revolution made by such a group would be "proletarian"?

I don't know if a theoretical answer is possible, but the empirical answer would be immediately obvious: after the big landowners flee, what happens with the land? If it becomes collective property, that's at least "proto-proletarian". If it is divided up so that all the landless people get a share of it for themselves to own, use, sell and buy, etc., then it's clearly bourgeois.

Attempts to impose collective ownership at gunpoint don't count, by the way. The landless rural proletariat have to actually want a collective arrangement for it to be meaningful in a Marxist sense. (There have been a few cases of this historically...but no one knows if they would have endured.)

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...what is a "peasant"? What is a peasant society? Don't you realise that in large parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the peasant as a social category and the peasant "mode of production" is increasingly "under threat" (which is one thing that anti-globalization campaigners whine about amongst many others. As usual, completely missing the point)? Therefore, the peasant, peasant societies and peasant production systems are not static, unchanging categories (dialectics). So there were and are changes, processes of destruction, mutation and creation which are creating new forces and relations of production. Therefore, then our reading of Marx-Engel's would also have to take this into account.


Aside from the plug for "dialectics", I see nothing to argue with you about in this paragraph. But I don't see that any of those things turns peasants into communist revolutionaries in a material sense...though they may well find Maoism an attractive doctrine.

With one exception: young rebellious peasants often emigrate to the cities, determined to put peasant life behind them. They consciously "proletarianize" themselves...and may well embrace communist ideas as a part of that process.

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...revolutions have a tendency to occur where the class contradictions have reached their level/plane of development. Ofcourse this is a simplification, and many other factors are also important. And this historically (past historical experience) and in the present, seem to be a tendency in the underdeveloped world. Witness, Colombia, Peru, India and Nepal today.


I'm unsure what you mean by "level/plane of development". I think of revolutions as a product of a social system coming into conflict with the material conditions of its own existence...it is simply unable to function any longer. People not only have the desire to be rid of it...but even its masters despair and begin to look forward to the end.

It's unarguable that this phemonenon has appeared and is appearing in the undeveloped countries around the world; even when "class peace" is re-established, within a generation or less, fresh uprisings break out. A rebellion is crushed here; a new one breaks out there.

But what is the real nature of these rebellions? I submit that these are really bourgeois revolutions...forced to be much more (temporarily) radical than they would otherwise be by the existence of imperialism. When they make one of their "socialist" revolutions, they do indeed temporarily break free from imperialism...but not for long. After a generation or two (or less), they find themselves drawn back into the international marketplace; the vanguard that administers the means of production begins to entertain ideas of owning those means of production; and so on.

We have seen this happen. Those who blame this on the individual "treachery" of this or that "leader" completely miss the point...these countries are undergoing the transition from feudalism (speaking loosely) to capitalism. There is nothing anyone could have done to change the outcome, IF Marx was right.

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In fact we could say after WW2 and the historic "surrender" of the CP's who gave up their arms and joined the arena of liberal democratic competition, the working classes in Europe have not had the requisite revolutionary leadership.


That's not the main reason there has been no revolutionary uprising of the European proletariat or even the 50th reason. Post-World War II Europe has always been "rich" in Lenin-wannabes...the working class hasn't been interested.

I think we have to look at material conditions...the European proletariat went through a long period of "boom times", of steadily rising incomes, improved social services, etc. Historians can argue over exactly why this was possible...what is clear to me is that it is no longer possible.

I think (and, yes, I'm really going out on a limb here) that the deterioration in the living standards of the proletariat that Marx predicted...has begun. There are not going to be any more "good times"; there are not going to be any more "great reforms"; etc. Things are going to alternate between stagnation and...getting worse.

The attitude of the ruling class has turned quite grim...they seem to be waging the class struggle with real enthusiasm, both politically and economically.

New generations of young European workers are bound to respond to that...no matter how many times they've been told that Marx was a wanker.

At least, so it looks to me now.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 6, 2003
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...the correct form of economic policy would be value-based socialism.


I'd like to focus on that: it sounds "innocent" but means a good deal more than some might think.

"Value-based socialism" means that the "law of value" prevails under all the Leninist models of socialism; that is, the exchange-value of commodities depends on the socially necessary labor-power required to make them.

There is no doubt of the accuracy of that description.

The question is: is such an economic form necessary in the transition from capitalism to communism? (Naturally, I'm speaking of advanced capitalist countries only.)

Or is it possible--even necessary--to proceed at once to the rapid elimination of the market, of money, and of exchange-values altogether?

I recognize that there can be legitimate differences of opinion concerning the rapidity of this transition--we have no way of knowing exactly what will be practical in the aftermath of proletarian revolution.

But I think the communist perspective is pretty clear and obvious: faster!

That is, we should be resolutely and militantly opposed to any attempt from any quarter to establish "value-based socialism" as any kind of quasi-permanent "stage" that needs to be "consolidated" before we can begin the transition to communism.

We begin the transition to communism at once. Any use of the market is a consciously-acknowledged temporary expedient that is planned for early extinction.

On this, there can be no "fooling around" or "weaseling"...the market and all that is associated with it is our deadly enemy.

If we do not destroy it, it will destroy us.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 6, 2003
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Eliminating the transitional period will only create panic and chaos among the uneducated and politically immature masses. Socialism must be perfected in each and every environment prior to the evolution into communism.


Are the masses, who have just made a revolution with openly communist objectives, remember, so "uneducated" and "politically immature" as to "panic" at the prospect of enjoying the fruits of their labors?

Having harvested his crops, does a farmer "panic" at the thought of eating?
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 7, 2003
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They will eat and eat and eat until they are fat and happy. Or until they realise that someone is now going to have to supply them with all the free things to eat. At this point their relative immaturity will manifest in chaos as they will have no specific direction to go.


This seems to me to be a mystical argument...that is, it makes an assertion that is not only without evidence but without the possibility of evidence.

Granted therefore that either of us might be right, what should be the communist hypothesis?

Should we follow the historical assumptions of class society and base our strategy on the "generally accepted consensus" that the masses are "unfit" to govern themselves and "need" an "enlightened" despotism "for their own good"? This, of course, is Leninist doctrine.

Or should we communists "bet" on the working masses who have just overthrown the capitalist order? Should we be prepared to accept whatever "chaos" might initially ensue (and there will certainly be some...perhaps quite a bit for a few weeks or months) in order that the masses themselves may decide the shape of the new classless society?

After all, there would be nothing stopping us or anyone from organizing "pockets of order" as appropriate...getting trash picked up, arranging food supplies, getting the electricity back on, etc.

People in fact have done these kinds of things in revolutionary situations "instinctively"--they did not require an "official vanguard" to do them.

Is there any real reason to believe--aside from the historical traditions of class society--that these pockets of order will not spread to the point where classless society fully exists? No doubt it would still be "disorderly" from a capitalist outlook--lots of meetings and arguments, low "productivity", a complete lack of "respect" for the authority of property and superstition, etc.

It strikes me that the appeal of Leninism to you (as well as your seeming fascination with "the dictatorship of the proletariat" phrase) is that you are still convinced that the working masses are "sheep" that need to be "herded"

That's wrong!
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 8, 2003
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A critic (Rosa Luxemburg) described it, not too unfairly, as follows:

"...the party Central Committee should have the privilege of naming all the local committees. It should have the right to appoint the effective organs of all local bodies from Geneva to Liege, from Tomsk to Irkutsk. It should also have the right to impose on all of them its own ready-made rules of party conduct. It should have the right to rule without appeal on such questions as the dissolution and reconstitution of local organisations. This way the Central Committee could determine, to suit itself the composition of the highest party organs as well as of the Party Congress."


Well, was she wrong or was she right?

Does this kind of organization make any kind of sense from a revolutionary standpoint in advanced capitalist countries?

Would you want to be in an outfit like this? Why?

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The party is irreplaceable.


So we have been told...ad nauseam. But the reasons for this ritual utterance always turn out to be something along the lines of "the workers need leadership".

"Leadership", like the "grace" of "god", is one of those mystical attributes that descend from the heavens...to the astonishment and awe of common humanity.

It is always recognized in hindsight...Lenin was a "great leader" because he "won". Martov, for example, was dogshit because he "lost".

Stalin was a "winner"; Trotsky a "loser".

Prior to "the final score", it's always a matter of assertion..."our party" is the "revolutionary party" because only we provide "revolutionary leadership".

I submit that this fundamentally superstitious blatherskite has nothing in common with Marxism other than a few scraps and tatters of terminology.

It is "communist" in name only.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 10, 2003
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quote:

5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state...


These early formulas are probably the "best" quotes that can be located to justify the "transitional socialist stage" in the writings of Marx and Engels.

Frankly, I think it's a matter of what appeared to be "progressive" or "communist" in 1847 and what I see as communist now.

If you look at the other early goals of the Manifesto, you see things that have become irrelevant in the advanced capitalist countries. Not even the most servile reformist would suggest, for example, that "a heavily graduated income tax" is a "step towards socialism or communism".

Indeed, in institutions like the Federal Reserve Bank or the Bank of England, we already have "Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly."

Therefore, I submit we are in a position to see the shape of post-capitalist society more clearly than Marx and Engels...we are closer to it.

Our appreciation of the nature of class society is also superior to that of Marx...because we have more practical examples to learn from.

I know it is uncomfortable to you to be constantly reminded of this, but I don't see any way for the rulers of a "socialist" society to avoid becoming a new ruling class...and, eventually, a new capitalist class.

After all, where you have privilige, luxuries, rationing by disposable income, actual control of the means of production by a minority, appropriation of the social surplus to benefit a minority, no ability for the proletarian majority to participate in public life, etc., etc., what else can be the consequence but a new ruling class?

The totality of Marx's historical materialism points to this outcome, regardless of some lines in the Manifesto.

And when you suggest or imply that the new rulers "won't act like that" because they are "truly benevolent" or "truly faithful to Leninist principles"...that's just idealism. It's one of the earliest myths of class society...the "benevolent" despot.

It's never happened...and it never will.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 10, 2003
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quote:

For someone who thinks the working class does not need leadership, you sure act like you are "all knowing" when it comes to what the "working class" needs. By your mere presence here constitutes you as being further along then the basic man on the streets. Face it, RS, with all the rhetoric you speak, you are just like us. Developing strategies for revolution on what you consider best for the proletariat. So please spare us your "down with the man" bullshit mate.


No, I am not "just like you".

What's the difference? I neither seek nor require "disciples". If what I say to people "makes sense", then they are free to take it and use it as they will.

The "fate" of the revolution does not "depend" on me running the show. In fact, no small group of people, no matter how "brilliant", can be depended on to "run the show". Whenever that's been tried, the outcome has sucked!

Yes, I have ideas and opinions. Yes, I advocate them as vigorously as I can. Yes, I really do "think I'm right". I do not confuse that conviction with the idea that I am "therefore" entitled to be placed "in charge"...people should just "follow me" and "I'll set them free".

That's bullshit!

You Leninists sincerely believe that your "correct ideas" give you the right to run post-capitalist society. You borrow Marx's phrase--the dictatorship of the proletariat--to "justify" the dictatorship of you and your party.

And you "justify" that by frequent and often blunt assertions that the working class is fundamentally incapable of self-government...in your own words, they are "sheep" that need to be "herded" and "protected" from imperialist "wolves".

No, I am not "just like you" at all.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 11, 2003
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quote:

For some reason, nobody ever notices that the Communist Manifesto anticipates revolution occurring first not in England, the most developed country, or in France, but in Germany. In 1848, Germany was not a highly industrialized country. The League of the Just was more based among artisans than anything. I'd guess that a majority of the country was peasants.

However, the Manifesto says that the democratic revolution there will be the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution. Essentially relates to the idea that the bourgeoisie is no longer a revolutionary class, even in relation to feudalism, and only the working class can carry through the revolution even in backward countries.


Quite right...the reason no one "notices" is that it turned out to be an embarrassingly wrong prediction.

Marx and Engels, being optimistic, "predicted" revolutions on a number of occasions that never materialized...or took a form completely different from what they anticipated.

I don't think they grasped the idea that there is no way to "predict" the future in useful detail.

And even on those occasions when they "got it right", the time-scale was way off; Engels was predicting a 1789 (a bourgeois revolution) in Russia in the 1870s...nearly a half-century before it materialized.

The hypothesis that the bourgeoisie are no longer a "revolutionary class" and require the assistance of the proletariat to make a bourgeois revolution is almost certainly valid. In fact, in 20th century bourgeois revolutions, a revolutionary peasantry has been even more important.

The hypothesis that such revolutions can quickly "move on" into the realm of proletarian revolution has been falsified. There was the appearance of proletarian revolution in Russia, China, Yugoslavia, etc....but genuine proletarian rule was sporadic, brief, and ultimately a failure. Neither the material conditions nor the consciousness of the proletariat were ripe for that kind of transition; after a winding and twisting path, all of those countries ended up exactly where a Marxist analysis would have predicted: capitalism.

quote:

Finding human behaviour en messe predictable as I do, I can confidently say that you are wrong. Give the masses freedom from capitalist oppression without some sort of leadership and you will get panic. You will get the masses taking more than they need simply because they are making up for having so little for so long. They will for years live in fear that capitalism will "strike back" and attempt to take back everything they now possess. The human psyche is simple once you understand that the majority of the global population are about a sharp as marbles. They will follow predictable paths.


Whenever I read stuff like this, I'm always struck by how much it resembles the fascist view of "human nature". Most lefties have probably never read much fascist material; I may be the only person on this board who has actually read Mein Kampf. There is a longish section in it where Hitler talks about the "masses"...their limited capacity for understanding abstract thought, their "need" for simple slogans and a black-and-white world-view, their "longing" for a strong leader to submit to, and so on.

It seems to me that if this view of the "human psyche" were accurate, then the choice between fascism or (Leninist) socialism would boil down to a matter of taste.

If most humans require a dictatorship, then it only remains to decide which kind of dictatorship is "more benevolent" in your own eyes.

Indeed, you might "legitimately" decide that present-day capitalism is preferable to either (as long as you live in a "first-world" country). Is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie really so bad? Remembering, now, that in this view of the "human psyche", dictatorship of some kind is "inevitable".

Can I "prove" that this is an erroneous assumption? Of course not. But there is an indirect proof available: if that assumption were correct, then all talk of communism would be an absurdity. The rest of human history would be nothing but a succession of dictatorships, some "better", some "worse". Any kind of political activity that wasn't directly careerist would be utterly pointless. Forget Marx; study Machiavelli.

I think there is fragmentary evidence (gathered during revolutionary periods) that this Leninist view of "the human psyche" is, in fact, wrong. But that's not "proof".

At this point in history, it remains an "open question". How you choose to answer it will determine what kind of revolution you will advocate or support.

I must say, however, that if you really think the masses are "sheep"...then fascism is your logical choice.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 11, 2003
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quote:

Middle-class radicals commonly assume that "professional revolutionaries" must be middle-class individuals like themselves. Also that they are the ones intended to bring revolutionary consciousness into working-class struggles from outside.


Is that not a reasonable reading of both Kautsky and Lenin?

quote:

In reality, the Bolshevik party - and its core of professional revolutionaries - was more proletarian in both membership and leadership than any of its rivals or critics.


That may be true; if the Mensheviks were 1% proletarian and the Bolsheviks were 2% proletarian, the statement would be true...and meaningless.

quote:

Only by linking up this experience with other struggles by workers and other toilers can you come to a general understanding of the totality of class relations in society.


No sensible person argues against such a view...though it seems to me in passing that workers in struggle are quite capable of grasping the idea that the fate of their struggles is linked to the struggles of other workers. So much so that in the United States it was necessary to pass a federal law against "secondary strikes"...workers walking out in solidarity with other striking workers.

Be that as it may, the current questions surrounding Leninism have nothing to do with a polemic against a forgotten position. They concern the actual validity of the Leninist view of class consciousness and how it arises and develops; the actual validity of the Leninist concept of socialism; the actual utility of the "democratic centralist" party in the advanced capitalist countries.

What is to be done? Lenin's answer was wrong.
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First posted by Che-Lives on August 11, 2003
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quote:

My view of the human psyche has everything to do with genetic human behaviour. Perhaps a class in evolutionary psychology or even sociology will help you to understand.


Wow, you are really wallowing in it now. Evolutionary psychology? You mean what used to be called evolutionary biology? And was called socio-biology before that? And what was called social-Darwinism and racial science before that?

You mean that wretched pseudo-science that has to be re-branded every generation?

You mean that fraudulent superstition that has always "proved" that existing elites are "truly superior"?

And this is your "proof"?

Frankly, I think Lenin would find you to be an embarrassment.

You are a lot closer to fascism than you realize.
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First posted at Che-Lives on August 11, 2003
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