[Marxism] On the functioning of Leninist groups and Respect

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Sun Nov 4 20:44:54 MST 2007

I was preparing a rather longish reply to Lenin's Tomb and some others, but
events have now overtaken it, so I won't be sending it.

But I believe a part of the post is appropriate now, so it follows: 

*  *  *

One of the problems with the style of organizing of groups that describe
themselves as Leninist is that they tend to be insular, self absorbed. And a
proposal of these comrades might be, in fact an IDEAL solution, but the
actual realities on the ground make it less practical or totally impolitic,
because politics is about relation to real social layers in motion and the
expressions of this motion, which is what you can actually relate to, are
far from ideal. 

The relationship between a political organization like this and a bunch of
"independents" often presents to the "independents" as a hierarchical one.
If the group is not careful --and there's quite a history to this
carelessness-- the group winds up driving the independents --or many of
them-- into a counter-formation, either formally or informally (most often
the latter) and sets up a very unhealthy dynamic. Or it winds up excluding
them unwittingly, creating mechanisms that are ill-suited to the
participation of independents.

My inclination is to say a group like the SWP, or like the DSP in Australia,
should not view itself as "intervening" in this sort of alliance, and should
not function as a fraction. The world is not going to end if different
comrades from the same organization prefer different candidates, or tactical

And if everything is pre-chewed in the party fraction, this sucks out all
the political life from the coalition involved. And often it comes across as
a fait accompli to the independents, who wind up feeling like they're just
rubber-stamping decisions made elsewhere.

This may be FORMAL democracy but it isn't PARTICIPATORY democracy and I
believe the only real democracy is participatory. 

And in general, this idea that EVERYONE doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING is the
way to "test the line" in practice and maximize your impact and so on is
unscientific. Who is to say that two different efforts will not produce
BETTER results, especially if the leading people consciously strive to make
them complimentary rather than counterposing them? And if one approach or
tactic is clearly head-and-shoulders better than the other, THIS is a real
test in practice, the results will show which is better.

There are, of course, circumstances where, by the very nature of the case, a
choice is binary. A Girl Scout Troop with enough money to EITHER hire a bus
for a trip OR rent a hall for a concert can do one or the other, and if the
decision is made by majority vote, you can call this "democratic centralism"
if you wish. 

And smart workers know that if only a minority walk out on strike, they are
much less likely to win their demands, so if a majority votes to accept the
contract, well, that's the way it is. 

And sure, under battle conditions there is a need for military discipline.
But people are smart, they understand that. And one of the most effective
proletarian fighting forces ever fielded were the anarchist units led by
Durruti in the Spanish Civil War, which had no FORMAL discipline but instead
simply the free choice of the combatants to subordinate themselves to those
organizing and leading operations. 

There is a logic to imposing military discipline on people involved in what
should be a friendly give and take with others on how best to accomplish
common goals. And that logic is to transform what might be really quite
secondary and episodic differences into a war. 

I've not been in the (British) SWP nor do I know exactly how it functions.
But I've seen enough of how groups that describe their character in similar
terms to the SWP to be quite concerned that what should have been a positive
and inspiring example of left unity might be wrecked by organizational


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