The REDSTAR2000 Papers

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

Parties and Movements March 18, 2006 by RedStar2000

guess it's time to admit that, in a very small way, I've become a little bit of an "internet celebrity". The reason I know this is that people start threads on message boards "about me"...rather than simply about ideas I may have that they may disagree with.

I don't "like" that sort of thing at all...but I suppose it's inevitable. Whenever it happens, I do my best to divert the discussion from me as a "personality" to the political ideas that I think need to be communicated.

Revolutionary politics is not "about" personalities; it's about the best ideas for fighting and ultimately overthrowing the capitalist class.

So what began here as a thread "about me" became a discussion of the differences between movements and political parties...and which would be most useful for us.


I don't like the idea of being thought of as any kind of "guru" who has "all the answers" to "all possible questions".

What I really want is for people to use their brains to think critically about social realities.

Not just "copy me" -- although I'm very flattered when people do that, of course.

Look at how some of the people on this board just repeat stale old formulas found in the writings of Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, etc. Even when Marx was wrong about something, some people are happy to proceed on the basis that "if Marx said it, it must be true".

You know that's no good...that nothing good can come from that approach.

What I try to do is imagine if Marx or Engels were "alive right now" and knowing what I know (or think I know) about how they looked at things, how would they look at some contemporary question. What might they say now?

And then I say that.
First posted at RevLeft on February 24, 2006


I mean, why would they change their opinion on parties not being a "bourgeois invention"?

Because they would have been paying attention, of course.

Unlike the various sorts of modern Lenin-groupies, Marx and Engels actually paid attention to what was happening around them. They learned from historical experience.

And, for all their short-comings, even Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao,, showed at least some effort to learn from history.

Now we've reached the "museum era" of Leninism...where all they can do is repeat obsolete formulas or, even worse, abandon those formulas in favor of overt reformism and wretched capitulation to the bourgeoisie.

Give any one of them a seat in parliament and they'd be as happy as a hog in slop.
First posted at RevLeft on February 25, 2006


Provide us with the documentary evidence that backs up your assertion that Marx and Engels saw political parties as obsolete, or could become obsolete, under capitalism.

The fact that Marx and Engels could change their minds as a consequence of experience is well-documented in their responses to the Paris Commune...when they said flatly that the perspective laid forth in The Communist Manifesto -- taking over the bourgeois state apparatus and "using it" to enact socialism "by degrees" -- was obsolete.

In their view, the Paris Commune demonstrated that the revolutionary proletariat must smash the state apparatus.

Now, it may be argued that Engels' collaboration with leading members of German Social Democracy suggests that he, at least, continued to support an electoral perspective...especially after the wretched Gotha Programme was dropped and Engels himself may have been involved in drafting portions of the Erfurt Programme.

There is a document by Engels entitled "Critique of the Social-Democratic Programme of 1891" which I have been unable to locate the text of on line...but which might prove relevant to this discussion. Supposedly it was suppressed by the Social Democratic leadership. If anyone can locate this document or already has a hard-copy and can transcribe it for us on RevLeft, that would be very helpful.

It's my contention that if Marx and Engels had had available to them the experience of 20th century so-called "proletarian parties", they would have of necessity re-examined their position on this question.

A historical perspective reveals that political parties are indisputably inventions of the emerging capitalist class. Prior to their invention, politics was a matter of family, clan, and it still is in much of the pre-capitalist world.

I think it would have been obvious to Marx and Engels that the whole concept of "party organization" needed questioning...and that such an organizational form would turn out to be of no more use to a revolutionary proletariat than a bourgeois state apparatus.

This will not inhibit, of course, those who can do nothing but copy what has gone before them.

If, by chance, they copy something that remains useful, then they may prosper. But the chance grows over time that they will copy something that's no longer useful (and perhaps never was)...and their efforts will dissipate in futility.

The sad truth of the matter is that what remains of Leninism today is probably even less radical than the German Social Democracy of 1891!
First posted at RevLeft on February 25, 2006

quote (redstar2000):

But I don't like the idea of being thought of as any kind of "guru" who has "all the answers" to "all possible questions".

What I really want is for people to use their brains to think critically about social realities.


And yet that's not what happens at all.

Ever considered why not?

Because in class society ordinary people are taught from childhood not to "trust their own judgment".

Just as people indoctrinated with religion during their childhood have a terrible time getting that crap out of their heads, people indoctrinated from childhood with the habits of obedience likewise must struggle really hard to quit doing that!

In addition to which is the fact that letting someone else do your thinking for you appears to be "easier" -- critical thinking, at least until one learns the habits of skepticism, is hard.

The vast majority of communists in the last century proceeded on the basis that the best way to become free was to pick the right leader to follow and do whatever he said. In the end, it didn't matter which one they picked...because they all turned out to be losers.

But even if they'd picked a "real winner", what would have been the outcome?

What would have stopped that "real winner" from getting the "big head" and concluding that his own casual nonsense was "holy writ"?

When everyone around you is telling you that the sun shines out of your ass, how long before you start believing them?

To be a real communist revolutionary means that one is willing and able to "think like Marx" and not just parrot him or anyone else.

No matter how many times someone has said things that make sense to you, you still have to be skeptical when that person says something new. At all costs you must avoid the deadly assumption that "if so-and-so said it, it must be right".

As it happens, the things that make sense to me also make sense to some other people...and I'm delighted that such is the case.

But it's always possible that I will say something "really dumb" or just totally wrong...and where would I be if no one called me on it?

How do we progress as a species if "wrong ideas" about anything are not replaced with "correct ideas" -- or at least ideas that are "less wrong".

That's why I've repeatedly emphasized that every idea put forward here (or anywhere) must be discussed on its merits -- not who said it, or the age of the person who said it, or their gender, or their ethnic/cultural identity, or whatever.

Sure, I take "short-cuts" like everyone else. When the cappies advance some idea, I look for the class bias and usually find it. When people who are still bedazzled by the myths surrounding bourgeois "democracy" advance their views here, I look for the reformist content...and usually find it.

But the truth is, I would welcome more sophisticated opposition to my own would compel me to think through my own views in a deeper way than I have to do now. I've actually said this before: I would love to have a discussion with one of the "top people" at The Economist about the future of capitalism in the "west". I wouldn't at all mind "going at it" with one of those "big name" Trotskyists in the U.K. Hell, I'd even be glad to take on that "living Marx" (*laughs*), Bob Avakian.

Believe it or not, I do not want to be a "guru" nor am I recruiting "disciples". I'm far too old and experienced to be bothered with that meaningless crap.

My purpose in the remaining years of my life is to simply "pass on" what I've learned (or think I've learned) to the younger generations of potential revolutionaries for them to use as they see fit.

And perhaps the most important thing I've learned is think for yourself, dammit!

Without that, how in the hell could we ever hope to really make any progress at all?
First posted at RevLeft on February 26, 2006


The question [is] why does so much of it attach to you. What is it about you and your posts?

Does it? Are there people on this board who treat me "as if" I were some sort of "guru"?


Who's suggesting that "redstar2000 is always right"?

Or that I'm a "living Marx"? *laughs*

As to my posts, they are no different from anyone else's, are they? I just say what I think about the topic under discussion and hope that it "makes sense" to people.

What sort of "disclaimer" or "consumer warning" would you like me to include?

Full Disclosure Notice: this post is an opinion and by reading it you waive all rights and guarantees, expressed or implied.

I could put it in my sig. *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on February 26, 2006


Can you provide any documentary evidence to suggest that Marx and Engels saw political parties as obsolete, or potentially obsolete, under capitalism?


I only infer that this would have been their conclusion had they had more experience of "political parties".

Thanks to another member, I have this late quote from Engels...


Today the German proletariat no longer needs any official organization, either public or secret. The simple self-evident interconnection of like-minded class comrades suffices, without any rules, boards, resolutions or other tangible forms, to shake the whole German Empire to its foundations.


The international movement of the European and American proletariat has become so much strengthened that not merely its first narrow form — the secret League — but even its second, infinitely wider form — the open International Working Men’s Association — has become a fetter for it, and that the simple feeling of solidarity based on the understanding of the identity of class position suffices to create and to hold together one and the same great party of the proletariat among the workers of all countries and tongues.

I read this as a statement that common class interest is far more important to the working class than all possible forms of organization.

But Engels seems confused (or at least to me confusing) in his later years.

For example...


One can conceive that the old society may develop peacefully into the new one in countries where the representatives of the people concentrate all power in their hands, where, if one has the support of the majority of the people, one can do as one sees fit in a constitutional way: in democratic republics such as France and the U.S.A., in monarchies such as Britain, where the imminent abdication of the dynasty in return for financial compensation is discussed in the press daily and where this dynasty is powerless against the people.


If one thing is certain it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution has already shown.

This strikes me as an expression of an enormous delusion about the "usefulness" of a bourgeois "democracy".

In 1891, when Engels wrote this, the U.S. was passing through the "gilded age" -- later known more clearly as the age of the robber barons and the trusts...when votes were openly bought and sold on the floors of congress.

It's astonishing, at least to me, that Engels failed to perceive this...and even more unbelievable that he would not have grasped this reality well in advance of his contemporaries.

But then we have to remember that Engels was hurrying in his final years to finish Vol. III of Capital...and it's very possible that he was "working for the future" and paying little attention to contemporary events.

In summary, you are correct enough in your view that Marx and Engels never said outright that the modern political party is a bourgeois invention...even though it's something they easily could have said.

Because it's I think you know very well.

Would they have repudiated the whole idea of a communist "political party"?

I think they would have...but I have no way of "proving that", of course.


Because it follows from their general critical approach to social questions. Historical specificity crops up all over the place in their work. There's really no more reason to assume that the political forms of bourgeois societies would be "best fitted" for proletarian revolution than there is to assume that what the revolutionary bourgeoisie "should have done" was replicate the political structures of feudalism...either in their struggles or after their victory.

For modern reformists, political parties "make sense"...they're "in line" with what reformists want to accomplish.

But do they make sense for revolutionaries?

In my opinion, none whatsoever!
First posted at RevLeft on February 26, 2006


In other words, when Engels spoke of "no longer" needing "any official organization", he was speaking of an "official" organization that has as its mission the education of proletarians in their "historical role" and their organization "one by one" of "the worker who had an understanding of their position as workers". In other words, Engels was arguing that it was no longer necessary for the German Social-Democrats to act like a propaganda organization; they could now act like a political party fighting for political power.

You may very well be right about this...I know of nothing that Engels wrote suggesting that the whole approach of German Social Democracy -- winning a majority in the Reichstag as "the road to power" -- was not the "right course" to take.


Actually, I disagree. I don't think it's true. Both of them knew and fully understood the importance of fighting the bourgeoisie in the political arena. They knew the question was to fight for political power, and that required a political movement -- a political party.

If you don't think political parties are an invention of the bourgeoisie, where do you think they came from?

A last desperate "fix" by besieged feudal aristocracies?

What purpose does a political party in a bourgeois "democracy" have other than to win elections and distribute spoils?

That's what social democratic parties actually did when they did come to power, right?

Do you imagine that either Marx or Engels would have "gone for that"?


I think Marx and Engels would be more inclined to take an attitude of, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck,...".

So do I. The political parties created by the left in the last century did "walk" and "quack" just like bourgeois political parties.

It's "part of the package". If you organize along the same lines as a bourgeois political party, then you'll act like matter how "r-r-revolutionary" your rhetoric.


In other words, if it challenges the bourgeoisie in the political arena and fights for proletarian political power, it is a political party regardless of whether it formally uses the name.

I think there is a significant difference between a group (organization by whatever name) that has as its goal the revolutionary political power of the proletariat...and groups (by whatever name) that simply wish to "fight for proletarian power" in the bourgeois political arena.

"Party" seems to me to be the correct term for the latter...but not the former.


You only see the concept of a political party in bourgeois terms -- and, specifically, American bourgeois terms.

Indeed, I am guilty. That's the specific historical reality in which I live...though I do think it highly likely that the concept is equally applicable to all of the "old" capitalist countries and probably to most of the new ones as well.

Everything I've run across about political parties in other countries suggests that they're all pretty much like the ones here. Win elections and distribute spoils.


Being a political party meant you challenged for political power (i.e., governing the country), not necessarily seizing control of the existing political apparatus. This was, and remains, the broad definition of what a political party does.

I think that's too abstract and even a-historical.

But even if it were true, what good does that mechanism do us?

That is, how does it help us to develop a group of people -- even working class people -- who have specialized in the "art" of party government?

The leaders of a successful political party become the leaders of the government...great for them, no doubt, but what's in it for us? If political power is not effectively in the hands of the working class as a whole, then what have we gained?

"Really nice leaders" as opposed to the "evil bastards" who run things now?


A proletarian political party (or organization, if the other term bothers you) does not -- or, more to the point, should not -- function like a bourgeois political party, which is mainly an electoral vehicle.

But that's what they all end up doing, isn't it?

Sure, they can talk about "socialism" and "communism" and even (vaguely) "revolution"...but it's pretty obvious they don't mean any of that stuff, isn't it?

As soon as they have the resources, they run somebody for public office. It's the built-in assumption of a "party"...even the ones that start out by claiming they'll "never do such a thing".

To some readers, it may look as if I'm making a fuss over "words". But that's really not my intention at all.

I think we need to reject as a matter of principle the entire bourgeois paradigm of "political power"...what it means and how it's attained.

A revolutionary alternative must be revolutionary!
First posted at RevLeft on February 27, 2006


You proclaim that things are true just because you say so.

Your posts are usually devoid of supporting fact and argument; they rely on people accepting your papal infallibility if they are going to accept anything you say at all.

You don't like dialectics and formal logic doesn't like you; that leaves faith.

I will grant that you far exceed me in the quest for the title "the Man of a Thousand Links".

Nevertheless, I have on occasion supplied links to support my views.

I generally provide lengthy and, in my opinion, very logical arguments in support of my views. In fact, my posts are often the longest of any in a thread for precisely that reason.

The fact that you personally don't find my arguments compelling does not negate the fact that others sometimes or even often do.

This morning I received an email from a high school student asking for permission to use some of the things I've written on crime and punishment in a communist society for a public exhibit in her school.

Of course I gave her permission. Should I have turned her down?


Like the JWs, you:
1. Reject all the governments of the world.
2. Reject participation in the class struggle and the imperfect politics of this sinful world
3. Hold that nothing can fundamentally change until enough people accept your doctrines
4. Emphasize proselytizing people to convert them to your doctrines and views about God
5. When enough people have been converted, a Utopian government of perfect justice and peace will be established.

1. As far as I understand your views, the only government in the world that you accept is Cuba. You could join my "cult" after Castro dies. *laughs*

2. Yes, I reject all the reformist "struggles" that you so eagerly embrace. I'm really only interested in struggles that actually advance things or at least have the potential for that.

3. No, I think capitalism will eventually "crash and burn" even if I am totally forgotten. If my ideas are good ones, they will inevitably be re-invented...probably by lots of people.

4. I've explicitly told people here not to preach! On the other hand, I do think it necessary in this period to find ways to reach people with a communist message...something that isn't happening at the present time.

5. I've explicitly pointed out here that people convert themselves based on their own life experiences and perceived self-interest. Our task is not to "convert people" but to make communist ideas readily available for such times as the proletariat will find them useful.


Both the opinions and the method of arguing for 'em are super-simple, anyone can copy them.

I deliberately attempt to express my views as clearly and plainly as possible...having no desire to be regarded as one of those "deep intellectuals" whom no one can understand.

I suspect that here you are simply reflecting what your parents (college professors) would say. I don't use the fashionable academic jargon. I don't buttress every post I make with 200 footnotes. And nothing I've ever written would be accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

We all have our limitations. *laughs*


So it's easy to see why you attract disciples rather than comrades. I can tell this problem bugs you, and apparently you haven't been able to figure out why it happens.

What actually "bugs me" is why people who agree with me about something are characterized as "disciples".

That is, what's the source of the "urge" to divide RevLeft in such a way as to assume that there are a few "gurus" and then there are the "disciples" who are presumably mindless idiots incapable of independent thinking.

For example...


Because you're acting more and more like RedStar's "assclown"...

It's not the first time such a comment has been offered as an "argument".

What's the real purpose of that sort of language?

And who gains by its use?

If the idea is to "discredit" the opinions of the targets, I rather doubt that it's working. If, in the course of controversy, you casually remark that your opponent is "just redstar2000's disciple", only those who already disagree with me are likely to be impressed.

If even all of them.

If it could be shown that I consciously posture before the people on this board as a "guru", then such language would be truly justified.

But I don't. I've never told people or even implied that "I'm always right" or that "I know everything about everything".

In fact, I've freely admitted my limitations (unlike some others I might mention here). I'm not a "trained specialist" in anything. I have lived long enough to read a lot of books...and I suppose that's worth something. There have been threads on the subtleties of Marxist economics where I have freely admitted that I stood on "shaky ground".

I've even been known to actually say "I don't know" fact I've had to say that a lot more often than I would wish.

There are some things that I do know. I know that you are intransigently opposed to my "ultra-leftism" is part of your Trotskyist heritage from the last century.

You think it your "duty" to say whatever comes to mind that might serve to "discredit" my views.

Because if my ideas prevailed, Trotskyism would disappear.

Well, your fears are entirely justified.

If you want to label the people who agree with me about something "disciples", go right ahead. They are most unlikely to be disturbed by the sputtering of museum curators.

Myself, I prefer to think of them as the next generation of real revolutionaries...and I do take some pride in the fact that they've found at least some of my ideas useful.

That's why I wrote them down.
First posted at RevLeft on February 27, 2006


Political parties, of one type or another, have existed wherever there have been deliberative bodies that represented differing class interests (e.g., the Roman Republic/Empire).

I am no more an "expert" on Roman history than on anything else. But my understanding is that Roman politics largely revolved around particular personalities -- that is, one might be a member of Caesar's "party" or Cicero's "party" or Pompey's "party". This meant that you did whatever your "patron" wanted (legal or illegal) in return for your patron's support...economic and legal.

These personalties indisputably represented different class interests. There are hints that Catalina, although an aristocrat himself, attempted to mobilize proletarian support for his abortive rebellion against the Senate.

But I don't think it could be argued that these were political parties in a modern sense...even though patronage has been an important element in modern parties, particularly in post-1865 America.

In other words, there are pre-capitalist "formations" that one could, with a little stretching, call "proto-parties". But they didn't really have much in common with modern bourgeois parties...either in the way they were structured or the way they actually functioned.


It is understandable that we don't know much about political parties that may have existed during feudalism (at least, not until feudalism began to decline, following the Crusades). While there were certainly sharp class distinctions, there was no political outlet for them.

Well, thanks to Engels, we do know something of Thomas Münzer's great rebellion of serfs and small peasants. Would it make sense to call the collection of people who followed Münzer a "party"?

Was Martin Luther's "cheap church" a "German Prince's Party" or a "Merchant Capitalist Party"?

There was class conflict at the roots of all that stuff...but little that a modern bourgeois politician would recognize or even understand.

As always, I don't wish to pretend to expertise that I do not possess. But my understanding is that bourgeois political parties came into existence in the late 18th century to represent not only class interests in a "crude" sense but as vehicles for the propagation of bourgeois ideology throughout society.

The revolutionary bourgeoisie had a vision of how a modern society should be organized. And they invented the modern political party to realize that vision.

In addition, of course, "young bourgeoisie" have many conflicts among themselves...which must be peacefully resolved if "business is to be done" by anyone.

Political parties proved to be extremely useful in that regard.

Far more useful than pre-capitalist forms of "politics" -- that is assassinations, civil wars, court intrigues, family alliances, recurring military coups, etc.


On the other hand, the proletarian party, if it is worthy of the name, "perfects" its organization to match the political system it fights for: first, the working people's republic; second, after the achievement of that goal, for its ultimate dissolution as society moves toward communism.

That is well said. But can a party exist that envisions its own dissolution?

That is, can you build a credible social institution on the basis that "someday" it will "no longer be needed"?

I think that violates the "assumption of continuity" that is frequently if not universally the "default mode" of our consciousness.

For example, I can recall ordinary people being quite shocked when I suggested that the time will probably come when the "United States" will no longer exist.

At times, I've even shocked people on this board by suggesting that something that they just assumed would "exist forever" will probably not "exist forever".

I think that when people are persuaded to join a group, they "just assume" that it will "exist forever"...or at least so far into the future that it will make no difference.

Otherwise, why bother?

We all have the desire, I think, to put our hearts and efforts into something that's really going to make a difference and not something that's just going to be around for a little while and then sink into oblivion.

An interesting (if wacko!) example of this is the perspective of the Progressive Labor Party -- they believe that their party will actually become the post-revolutionary state. And one of their members even suggested that the party might exist for as much as a million years. *laughs*

Rational people scoff, of course. But it does reveal how far some people are willing to go in that direction.

What would be the point in my own posting on RevLeft if I didn't assume that it will still be around in five or even fifty years!

Who wants to "write on water"?

What deeply concerns me about the "party form of organization" is that the people in it will inevitably come to the conclusion that it should exist forever.

Leading to the creation of an "elite political class" that will become a "class for itself" and eventually a new ruling class.


But is that a failing of the concept of a political party, or the failing of the non-proletarian leaderships of those parties? That is the question.

And a thorny one it is. The "communist" parties of the 20th century were led by non-proletarians largely because advanced education was a class privilege...even in the "west".

But I think there was another cause as well. A "party structure" tends to attract the very class of people who've already grown up and even been trained in that milieu. A successful Ivy League student politician is going to know things about how to manipulate a political party structure that most workers are not going to know.

Should he seek a career in "left politics", he will be "equipped" to both rise to the top of the party hierarchy and manipulate the party's practice in his own class interests.

It may not be a "law of history" that it "has" to turn out that way...but I think the traditional party structure facilitates that outcome.

Parties have leaders, after all...and the "easiest" way for a party to continue to function is to increasingly rely on its experienced leadership. Lenin actually made this point explicit when he discussed the leadership of German Social Democracy (before 1914)...that the SPD freely elected the same people over and over again to the leading positions.

In the context of the modern political party, that's the "sensible thing to do".


That is because each class sees this concept through its own lens. The same is true for an abstract concept like "politics" (or its organizational form, a political party). Each class sees that concept differently, based on its own material conditions and experiences.


Unfortunately, the working class in the U.S. is, to a considerable extent, still "stuck" at a rather primitive level of class understanding.

That is, to the extent that working people still see "the road ahead" as one of "electing good people" to public office, that inhibits the growth and development of revolutionary class consciousness.

As long as one imagines that one's problems can be solved by someone else, the initiative to take matters into one's own hands remains unrealizable.

Or, as we've both heard so many people say, "revolution is impossible".

A party structure actually encourages this view...even when they say otherwise. An ordinary worker might well vote for a "left" Democrat in the hopes that the politician might meet some of his needs.

And "ordinary lefties" support the "leaders" of their party in the belief that the leaders will figure out something to do that will actually "move towards revolution".

Either way, ordinary people are reduced to the level of spectators...instead of historical subjects who take direct action in their own perceived interests.


A proletarian party should not be in the business of specializing in the "art" of party government; rather, a proletarian party should be in the business of specializing in the "art" (and science) of training through example for the establishment of a working people's republic.

Yes it "should". But can it do that?


First, it means giving expression and substance to what it means to establish a working people's republic. This is the educational aspect of the proletarian party....

Second, it means taking advantage of opportunities as they arise to organize and show through example both what kind of practice will lead to the establishment of a working people's republic and what forms should be employed to not only achieve that goal, but also to continue forward from the achievement of that goal.

You know I can't really disagree with that.

But I think a "movement structure" is far superior for those purposes.

The more or less constant involvement in policy-making of the ordinary members promotes the active participation of ordinary people in post-capitalist society.

And the abandonment of the term "party" promotes, at least indirectly, the abandonment of illusions about bourgeois party politics...not to mention appealing to those who are already alienated to a considerable extent from the political platitudes of the existing social order.

No doubt the revolutionary proletariat in its own time will invent new modes of struggle that it finds most appropriate to its perceived class interests...but I think a "movement structure" serves to prepare revolutionaries for when that happens.

We will have already grasped that the future does not lie simply in our own "expert" hands...but belongs to the class as a whole.

I think that would be an enormous advance over both the theory and practice of 20th century revolutionaries.
First posted at RevLeft on February 27, 2006


I've been involved in politics for a while, though not as long as some of my comrades in the League, and not as long as some comrades here. However, I feel like what I am doing now is, and has been, my best work. Until going forward with the League, I always felt a little uneasy and awkward about the political work I was doing; something always bothered me about it. I don't have that feeling now.

I confess that I found myself "pierced" by your statement...I know the feeling!

A sense of "something's wrong here" and the inevitable feeling that it's some "inadequacy" on your some sense you're "not good enough" for this group. At least that was my reaction.

The "political style" becomes distasteful and over time actually repugnant.

It's only after a while (at least in my case...being a slow learner) that one realizes that there are not merely political disagreements involved but that one is reacting to real class differences.

When one finally leaves such a milieu, it's with a great sense of quitting a really shitty job!


What we are doing is fundamentally different from the standard operating procedure on which you've based your observations, RS. We've changed the rules, and, in that sense, we are an experiment. We think we will be successful, but history is the ultimate judge of that -- and, as you well know, history can be cruel in its decisions.

Fair enough. I wish you well...but reserve the right to criticize when I think either is wrong about something.

Perhaps the role of "revolutionary critic" is "my niche"...the kind of political work that I feel is most "in tune" with both my capabilities and limitations.

Anyone so foolish as to think of me as "their guru" is making a huge mistake. I don't want and have never wanted to be some kind of "Great Leader" always in the spotlight, whose every sentence is received with "thunderous applause; all rise". *laughs*

What attracts me so much about posting on the internet is that I have time to think about what I'm going to say and the reader has time to think about what I've said and whether or not it makes any sense.

Somehow, I think this does more to really advance things than all the "rousing speeches" ever delivered.


I understand that. That's the reason why I don't think the tactic of running in elections is obsolete. If elections are the opiate of the American people, then it is time for an intervention.

I think so too...but I think that the "intervention" should be in the form of a sharp attack on the legitimacy of bourgeois "elections".

I think that everything we can do to discredit the idea that we can "elect good people to public office" is helpful to us in the long run.

Parties simply want to get their "faces" out in if another mug on a poster or five minutes on the radio will "make a difference".

That might have been at least plausible a century ago...when parties had "platforms" and "principles" that voters actually read and discussed. Today, the appeal of political parties is almost entirely's a matter of "picking your favorite celebrity."

It really is a show...and I don't think we should have anything to do with it unless we attack it across the board.
First posted at RevLeft on March 1, 2006


Pannekoek can only conceive of this tactic as "reformism" and "parliamentary cretinism". There is no other way it can go, as far as Pannekoek is concerned -- even though concrete historical experience has shown this is not the case.

What "historical experience" are you referring to?

I am no expert on the history of 20th century communism...but I'm not aware of a single case where anything constructive was ever achieved by revolutionaries in either election campaigns or actually gaining seats in a bourgeois parliament.


This "either-or" method of seeing the world is little more than a crude mechanical materialism that actually abstracts the concepts of "party", "reforms" and "elections" from their specific material conditions and turns them into unchanging, universal institutions.

The "material conditions" are those of "developed capitalism" which it is assumed that things are "more or less" the same in all countries at that level of development.

Certainly not different enough to warrant the term "abstraction" that's true "for all time" and "in all places".

Lenin's "highest stage" of capitalism did include the assumption that reforms were "no longer possible"...and that was clearly wrong as the "golden age of reformism" was about to begin.

Reformists could form parties, run for office, win elections, and deliver substantive reforms. During that period (which I think ended in the "old" capitalist countries around 1975 or thereabouts), the parties that claimed to be "revolutionary" did the same things as the reformists did...and were, on occasion, likewise "successful" in the same ways.

But none of that stuff ever "led" to revolution or anything even close to that.

Your hypothesis is that a "proletarian-only" party can do all those things that reformist parties have done with a different outcome.

That is, your "new kind" of party won't become corrupted, trivialized, co-opted, etc., "because" you'll be excluding all along the sorts of people (petty bourgeoisie) who have a class interest in being corrupted, trivialized, co-opted, etc.

Well, who can say? We know from experience that workers can also be corrupted, trivialized, co-opted, etc.

The objection to your perspective is not based on "mechanical materialism" or "universal abstractions" but on observed historical experience...that "party formations" failed to deliver the revolutionary "goods".

It's all well and good to claim that you've "found the problem" and "fixed it"...but until there's a visible "track record", your claim is speculative.

Myself, I offer the perspective of a "movement structure" that attacks reformism, parties, and elections as bourgeois instruments of coercion.

I don't think it's "our job" as revolutionaries to either "fix" capitalism or "take over" capitalist political organs.

My view, at this point, is just as speculative as anyone else's...we have little choice but to wait and see what working people conclude is "the best option".

And they may well invent something entirely new and completely unanticipated.

It's happened before.


In the end, his views convey the same message as the reformists: Don't bother fighting in the here and now, wait until the glorious revolution is upon us and then -- and only then -- stand up.

This is unfair to the reformists...who are always talking about "fighting in the here and now". It's what they fight for that revolutionaries find unsatisfactory.

And, worse, counter-productive. A "substantive reform" that's actually achieved can spread as a consequence the illusion that "the system works" or can be "made to work" in our favor.

Completely overlooking the demonstrated fact that pro-working class reforms under capitalism are always transient.

I can't see this as doing anything but delaying the emergence of revolutionary class consciousness.

I have a different view of what it means to "fight here and now". I think it means raising the communist option in a public that working people at least have some idea of what we're about.

In this era, "taking part" in an actual struggle only makes sense if the "communist option" can be raised publicly.

That's a "very short list" because we live in a period of reaction. The list will get longer when people give up on the reformist perspective and "take it to the streets".

Since we want people to be revolutionary, we must begin by encouraging rebellion.
First posted at RevLeft on March 3, 2006


All of this is only true if you accept that only the bourgeois conception of doing things is universal -- that is, the only way to do things. What you do is accept in advance that the bourgeoisie sets the terms and defines the boundaries. And if they decide to "move the goal posts", that's fine too. In other words, you agree in advance to "fight capitalism" while abiding by the capitalists' ideological terms, which means you don't "fight capitalism" at all.

That is what reformists do!

The controversy here is whether or not revolutionaries should play the bourgeois game on the bourgeois field by the bourgeois rules at all!

When people enter a casino, they know (or should know) that the rules of all the games favor the house. Play long enough and you must lose.

That doesn't mean one should "never gamble" means that casino gambling is a form of entertainment for which the player pays.

The arena of bourgeois politics is actually worse than a casino...because the ordinary player always loses!

For revolutionaries to participate in the bourgeois political "game" is like throwing all your money away in a casino to "prove" that the house always wins...something that's already known.

More and more working people are completely indifferent to bourgeois "elections"...because they already know that it's not going to make any significant difference in their lives except make things worse no matter "who wins".

In addition, of course, there's the problem of the mixed message. I've reproached the Trotskyists here about this on numerous occasions. In the U.K., they run people for office while telling whatever audience they can manage to gather that "elections are no good; we need a revolution".

In other words, they're tell people that "running for public office is useless" while showing that they "really mean it" by...running for public office. *laughs*

Who would take seriously anyone so self-evidently confused?

The boilerplate "rationale" is that people are "more inclined" to listen to political rhetoric during election campaigns...but I think the "truth" of that is visibly shrinking. I think a lot of people in the U.S. now are more likely to get their "political information" from MTV or Saturday Night Live...or from some 30-second dummyvision spot.

It's all a show...and no revolutionary group has the resources to compete in that arena.


Just because bourgeois elections are part and parcel of the "old system" doesn't mean there isn't something there we can use to further our educational and agitational work.

I'm think there's nothing there at all.
First posted at RevLeft on March 4, 2006

The Census Bureau numbers that you report are projections from a self-reporting survey...which suffer from known statistical uncertainties.

For example, 125.7 million people said they voted in the 2004 presidential "election", but (from the same link) only 122.3 million people "officially voted".

It's a less extreme version of "church attendance" figures. That is, when the religious are polled about their regular church attendance, the numbers come out substantially larger than the numbers actually reported by all the churches.

In surveys, people lie to make themselves "look better".

The registration numbers are probably similarly inflated. Most people know that registering to vote gets your name on the jury duty list...and who needs that?

It would be interesting to get a break-down of those Census Bureau numbers by class.

It's the "common assumption" that voting rates decline by "socio-economic status"...but it would be nice to have some actual empirical confirmation.

Because if that "common assumption" is indeed valid, then any "communist" electoral strategy would perforce be "based" on the premise of attracting people back "into" the system who've already left it.

Note also from that Census Bureau report...


Citizens age 65 and older had the highest registration rate (79 percent) while those age 18 to 24 had the lowest (58 percent). The youngest group also had the lowest voting rate (47 percent), while those age 45 and older had the highest turnout (about 70 percent).

If we assume that alienation from the existing system and potential receptivity to communist ideas tends to be highest among young adults, then once again a "communist" electoral strategy would be trying to "pull into the system" people who are already alienated from it or at least indifferent to it.

Finally, the high turnout in 2004 may have included a good many "votes against Bush"...people who would not have normally bothered to register, much less vote, were it not perceived as an opportunity to protest the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, etc.

The long-term trend in what The Economist calls "mature democracies" (*laughs*) is for declining voter turnouts...and 2004 may have simply been a "blip" that will not be repeated.


For example, for a communist candidate to do a decent run for president, we have figured it would take about $1 million to do it. We break that down like this: 50,000 people donating $20 a piece equals $1 million. Can we find 50,000 people across the country over the course of a year or so willing to donate $20 in order to build that kind of war chest? I think so. It is not unrealistic.

How much radio and television time can you purchase for $1 million?

And will they be willing to sell you any time at all?

I rather doubt it, myself.


In almost every state, all it takes to run as a write-in candidate is an affidavit (statement of intent) and a list of Electors. And you can usually find the handful of people willing to be Electors within a few days of campaigning. Beyond that, it's a matter of publicity and education about how to vote write-in.

I have never heard of even a single state that bothers to count write-in votes and release the total.


The reformists do not tell working people, or any people, to "fight in the here and now". What reformists tell people is to let them "fight in the here and now" on their behalf. The last thing in the world the reformists want is something that can get out of their control, like a grassroots movement. They want tightly-controlled demonstrations and tightly-controlled campaigns. "Fighting" doesn't figure anywhere into it.

Well, that's an argument ultimately based on the "sincerity" of professional they really "fight" for the reforms that they profess to desire?

I think most of them probably do...they could get higher-paying jobs if they really wanted them.

I agree they are averse to "grassroots movements" that might possibly escape their control; the modern reformist model appears to be a group of professionals and in which ordinary people "participate" by mailing in a check.

The difference between reformists and communists is not only in what they fight for but what they mean by the word fight. Reformists are "at home" on the bourgeois "playing field"...they "play by the rules" and are never rude to the "umpires". *laughs*

And, from examples I've seen, they have adopted the techniques of bourgeois ideologues with considerable raising letters that promise "doom is at hand" unless you (yes you, you selfish bastard!) mail in your check at once! They rely on guilt and fear.
First posted at RevLeft on March 5, 2006


Well, in Marx's view, the party in it's broad historical sense is one that has ideological, political and organizational leadership over the proletarian revolution. One party that leads the proletariat up to its complete victory, that is, from seizure of political power up to the complete abolition of private property and the establishment of communist society.


Here and there you might be able to scrape up a fragment from Marx or, more likely, Engels, to "justify" your inference that "this" is what Marx "expected to happen".

But in the form you phrase it, this was really Lenin's idea...though a logical extension of what the Kautskyist leadership of German Social Democracy essentially proposed as the "road to socialism".

Lenin gave it a "revolutionary spin"...and the "winner effect" took care of the rest.


Well, participation in reactionary elections can also be similar to going to court to file a petition against illegal arrest, or petition against union busting, or going to the streets in protest of a legislation of a certain anti-worker bill.

No, your first two examples only involve a few lawyers making appropriate mouth-noise.

And your last example -- "going to the streets" -- is what I propose as the proletarian alternative to bourgeois electioneering.

When people "take it to the streets", they approach the "borders" of bourgeois "right" and frequently cross those borders! What they want is more important than what bourgeois law "permits".

That opens up revolutionary possibilities...something that cannot happen when people simply dick around with electoral politics.


It is reformism when the struggle would be confined only and is limited to parliamentary forms of struggle that only calls for some reforms and hoping that these reforms would peacefully evolve into socialism.

The flow of resources is towards "parliamentary forms" of "struggle" and the socialist rhetoric is gradually abandoned in order to win more votes.

Even those who "started out" with revolutionary intentions end up as bourgeois politicians.


But the proletarian party can gain some seats in the local legislature, for example, or some local government positions, such as Mayoralty posts, that can be very helpful in further advancing the revolutionary struggle.

The city of Milwaukee (Wisconsin) had Socialist Party mayors for didn't "advance" squat. There are cities in Italy that have had "communist" mayors since the end of World War II...nice places to live in from what I've read but not quite up to the level of the Paris Commune. *laughs*

You seem to have a very exaggerated conception of "local powers" in bourgeois society.


For revolutionaries to participate in the reactionary elections, they must know the limitations and must set specific objectives and how can that further advance the revolution.

Carefully thought-out and well-planned folly is still folly!
First posted at RevLeft on March 8, 2006


Wait, isn't that what we all do? Leninist or otherwise? Are you telling me that when you're in a mass organization, you don't try to convince them of your ideas, and try to get people who agree with those ideas elected?

The Leninist strategy explicitly proposes a certain relationship between the Party and the mass movement: namely that the Party "should run the show".

Indeed, what was chronically irritating to the three Maoist groups in SDS was precisely the fact that there was really no way to do that given the way SDS was structured.

It was not "democratic" centralist and there was no way to plausibly impose that. Towards the end, it was almost as if the leaders of all three groups saw a massive SDS as an obstacle to the "real task"...building a Leninist "revolutionary" Party.

As to "organized factions" in some hypothetical future revolutionary movement, I'm inclined to recommend against that idea.

Not that "administrative" remedies are necessarily in order...but I think if it becomes clear that a group within the movement is operating in that fashion, then they ought to be "called" on it and challenged to explain why they think it's appropriate.

If their explanations hint at some sort of elitist principle, then it might be appropriate to give them the boot.
First posted at RevLeft on March 8, 2006


People join a political party because they agree with its ideas, whatever they may be, and with the express purpose of helping to spread them and organize to bring those ideas to the fore of the movement.

And who could object to that, right?

No one could...until one finds oneself on the receiving end of such an operation.

After all, people join movements because they also "agree with its ideas" only to discover that they've been organizationally outmaneuvered by some smaller but better organized group within the movement.

And then find that the ideas that they initially agreed with have been replaced with ideas that they find dubious or even repugnant.

Perhaps you think, well, "that's life"...and there are winners and losers in every struggle.

Or, "can't please everybody".

But the history of Leninist parties operating within mass movements contains something additional: once they establish administrative control, then they abolish internal democracy within the movement.

Once their particular ideas prevail, all other ideas become marginalized. It's now no longer really a movement...just a "department" of the Party. It no longer reflects the wishes of the membership...only the wishes of the Party leadership.

After the split in SDS in 1969, PL was left with a "rump" SDS...perhaps a few thousand students in perhaps 20-30 chapters. They did manage a large successful campaign against ROTC at Berkeley as well as getting involved in some small efforts to organize campus workers. So there was a chance to "re-build" SDS.

But PL effectively abolished all of the regular national meetings of SDS (which took place four times a year before the split). People lost the sense of participation in decision-making...or even really being part of a national movement any more.

New Left Notes became monolithic in any other Leninist tabloid.

When this sort of thing happens, people "vote with their feet" a year and a half, PL pissed away what was left of SDS.

You can call this "organizing" if you like...but it seems to me that harsher words would be more descriptive.


It's pretty clear, they disagree, and they wanna work to see that their view is heard and changes are made.

"Disagree" can mean lots of different things.

In the case of SDS, PL did make some real contributions to building it...most notably in injecting a very sharp anti-U.S. imperialist line into its work.

But accompanying this was another idea that was injected: the idea that SDS was "something kids do" until they're "ready" for the "major leagues"...Joining the Vanguard Party!

This idea had such a captivating appeal in those days ("the winner effect") that even people who couldn't stand PL still wanted to "get promoted" to the "major leagues" organizing their own Vanguard Party.

So by mid-1969, you had three "vanguards" fighting to "capture" the movement...and by the end of 1970, you had no movement left at all.

I don't think that "experiment" is worth repeating.
First posted at RevLeft on March 9, 2006

quote (The Communist Manifesto):

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.
-- your emphasis.

Each separate Leninist party is opposed to all other Leninist parties...surely you are aware of this?

And to the extent that parties controlled by the bourgeoisie that still enjoy substantial working class support exist, all Leninist parties oppose them as well.

What really happens is that each Leninist party defines itself as the only "working class party".

quote (The Communist Manifesto):

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

All those pictures of Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, etc. were just there for decoration? *laughs*

Every Leninist party most certainly has and still does "set up sectarian principles of its own".

The most glaring of which is that it alone must rule!

quote (The Communist Manifesto):

In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
-- your emphasis.

No, they actually haven't done that...or at least only rarely. They say that they "represent the interests of the movement as a whole"...but, for example, how did it "represent the interests of the movement as a whole" for Stalin to sign a pact with Hitler or Mao with Nixon?

The history of 20th century Leninism is replete with examples of such behavior!


Beyond these considerations, you might also consider that the Manifesto was written and circulated on the eve of the great wave of predominately bourgeois insurrections in 1848.

Does it really make sense to you to take "strategic advice" from a document now more than 150 years old?


The revolutionaries in the Philippines participate in the reactionary elections.

Do they? Can you link to a specific article on that site that explains why they do that? And what they imagine that they're getting out of that participation?

Because, frankly, that sounds "just crazy" to me! They have an armed struggle going...that's where their resources should be put!

Philippine bourgeois politics is a toxic waste dump of corruption, intrigue, and superstition...what could revolutionaries ever hope to gain from participating in that?
First posted at RevLeft on March 9, 2006


So how are you gonna stop those "Leninists" who are reactionary in their approach to organizing?

By what I am doing right here.

I want to educate people here so thoroughly that should any Leninists show up, people already know what to expect and will be able not only to reject their ideas but take any administrative moves that they think necessary...and do that "in good conscience".

You see, a "movement structure" is necessarily diverse...and that is normally the source of its strength.

But it cannot be infinitely diverse...or it will "crack up" like SDS did.

I think the next emerging revolutionary movement in the "old" capitalist countries should and probably will reject the vanguard paradigm as a matter of principle.

Now, if vanguardists want to secretly enter into and work to build the movement, fine. But as soon as they expose their real motivations, I think they should get the boot.

Just as happens on this board...when someone shows up and says "left" things for a while and then exposes a racist, sexist, homophobic agenda.

Any elitist agenda should be considered unacceptable in a revolutionary movement.
First posted at RevLeft on March 10, 2006


How do you explain the Bolsheviks being able to form an International with parties from all over the world?

The "winner effect". There are probably no longer any people still alive who remember the enormous prestige that the Bolsheviks enjoyed after 1917.

Had they suggested that "every revolutionary" must eat one dog turd a day, the sidewalks of western cities would have suddenly been one heck of a lot cleaner. *laughs*

The political devolution of those parties is a much sadder story.
First posted at RevLeft on March 11, 2006


As for New Labour: when revolutionaries enter a social-democratic party, I hope it's not to build and strengthen the social democracy. I'd hope the goal is, in part, to damage the social democracy, exactly as the Labour leadership claims. I don't see how any other course could be accurately described as revolutionary.

This summarizes exactly what I was speaking of earlier in this thread. When a Leninist group enters a larger group, it does so not in a sense of solidarity or agreement but rather to either "take it over" or "wreck it".

The "Labour" Party certainly "deserves wrecking" question about it.

But would it make sense to have people like the Leninists around within a new revolutionary movement...knowing what they intend?

I'd vote to give them the boot as soon as possible.
First posted at RevLeft on March 11, 2006


So you still haven't convinced me that any of you would do any differently if you were organizing in a bigger party/federation with certain people you disagreed with in it.

You may not be "convince-able" on this issue.

But consider this board as a "virtual" example. I obviously try to convince people that my ideas about theoretical subjects and even suggested practical actions are "better" than those who disagree with me.

But I don't use the pm function to "organize" a "redstarist" faction, set up "campaigns" against people who disagree with me to deprive them of mod-ship or boot them from the CC or restrict them to OI. When someone new is nominated to the CC, I don't attempt to "organize" a yes or no vote.

To me, that kind of stuff is counter-productive and shows a practical distrust of the membership. If you lack confidence in the general appeal of your political ideas, what do you really gain with organizational maneuvers?

You may gain some administrative "positions of power", but that doesn't change what people think. You may succeed in modifying the "official position" of the movement, but that has little effect on what people actually do.

Whatever the organizational milieu that a revolutionary might be operating in, the point is to change the whole way people look at things...from some non-revolutionary perspective to a revolutionary perspective.

All the rest is just "fluff" and historically meaningless.
First posted at RevLeft on March 11, 2006


So it seems I was wrong, you have no problem with people talking about their ideas, but the moment they wanna do something about them, oh no, that's too much.

All depends on what they "want to do", doesn't it?

Because Leninists place their major emphasis on their alleged ability to "lead" people, they concentrate much of their energies on capturing "leadership positions" if having accomplished that, they need only to say "shit" and everyone will squat.

Instead of winning people to their political perspective, they merely wish to win people to the idea of following their leadership.

Indeed, I don't think it would really be unfair to say that "following their leadership" is the "heart" of the Leninist political perspective.

When people want to "do" that sort of thing, you are quite correct in your assessment of my views; I don't think that is at all useful either in theory or practice.

Shame on me!
First posted at RevLeft on March 11, 2006


Certainly when the time comes to strike, it'll be a lot nicer having a union or party leader who goes on television, makes the class war arguments, and stands 100% behind the strikes, the occupations, whatever resistance is happening.

Again, I don't see what's wrong with that. I don't think you can deny that leadership positions are important at such critical times.

It seems to me that you are just using different words to "justify" the same phenomenon that I criticize.

Sure, if all you have going for you is a group of followers plus a "charismatic leader" to go on the dummyvision and "give the line", then that's indeed "critical" and you must have the "best guy" you can find to "do that".

If you have a movement where people have a political understanding of what's at stake, then your television person can be anybody...because every one will already be able to "give the line".

I remember an amusing example of this from the waning days of SDS. Some time in very early 1969, Mike Klonsky (the last National Secretary) went on the dummyvision program Face the of those Sunday morning "celebrity newsmakers" programs. I and some other SDSers gathered to watch, fully prepared to scoff at Klonsky's "performance" since we considered him one of the more inept public spokespeople for SDS around. Much to our "shock and awe" he did fine...if only because he "looked like a genius" compared to those bourgeois celebrity "reporters" who came off looking like morons!

In retrospect, I think almost any member of SDS with a year's experience would have done just as well or even better. The "atmosphere" in SDS was "conducive" to understanding the politics of SDS.

That seems to me to be very different from that of bourgeois political parties, Leninist parties, and large reformist all of which only the trained professional leaders are considered competent to handle the "big questions".

That's why I think the next wave of revolutionary movements in the "old" capitalist countries will be "like"'s a better way to go.
First posted at RevLeft on March 12, 2006


My argument had nothing to do with who's "competent to handle the big questions", it has to do with the reality that high-profile positions are important.

Only to the extent that you make them so!

Think you need a "Great Man" to get anything done? Then you must be sure and find one. Or at least someone who can give a credible impersonation of "greatness". *laughs*

And then, as another rather cynical member of the board suggested, you had better hold his family hostage...under the threat of instant execution if your "Great Man" sells your sorry ass down the river.

My position? Fuck that "high profile" shit! We can and should do without it!

Anybody who "needs encouragement" from a "Great Man" is still in chains.
First posted at RevLeft on March 16, 2006
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