[Marxism] Replying to a blogger

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 5 13:35:56 MST 2007


I want to take up some issues that Lenin's Tomb )aka Richard Seymour) 
has raised on his blog. Since he has accused me of "fucking around with 
non-sequiturs" there (ie., refusing to deal with details of the squabble 
between the SWP and Galloway on his terms), I will reply to him here 
instead. The last thing I want to be accused of is disrupting his blog, 
which I find valuable much of the time.

This was the last exchange between us on his blog:

Lenin's Tomb:
"George Galloway is a reformist. Salma Yaqoob is a reformist. Much of 
the membership of Respect remains reformist. Ralph Nader is a reformist. 
They are reformist because they are committed to achieving radical 
changes within the capitalist system rather than overthrowing it. This 
is an elementary distinction. I doubt any of the above-mentioned people 
would claim that they are anything other than reformists."

My Reply:
Okay, let me see if I get this straight. Revolutionaries are committed 
to overthrowing the capitalist system, while reformists are not. So, Bob 
Avakian, Jack Barnes, the Sparts, the Deleonites, the WSWS website, et 
al are revolutionaries and Galloway, Nader et al are reformists. No 
offense, but I will throw my lot in with the reformists. Let me just put 
it this way, Comrade Seymour really has to stop fetishizing ideas in 
this fashion. Being "for" revolution is a pretty worthless distinction 
in today's world.

This led to Lenin's Tomb reply immediately below, which consists of a 
number of items that I will reply to point by point:

Lenin:
1) There is no reason to throw your 'lot' in with either on the basis of 
that distinction. I didn't ask you to do so. I simply pointed out the 
basis of a rather elementary distinction, which a five-year-old would 
understand.

Me:
I am afraid that the distinction between "revolutionary" and "reformist" 
remains useless, even if it seems elementary to you. I established 
Marxmail in order to transcend these sterile categories, even if they 
remain the stock in trade of self-declared vanguard groups. For example, 
by your ideological definition, I am a reformist even though you are 
smart enough not to go around labeling people in this manner on this 
mailing list. If being "for" socialist revolution is some kind of litmus 
test, you are welcome to it. I am far more interested in *action* than 
words. By standing up to the forces of reaction in Britain, George 
Galloway demonstrated in *action* that he was on the side of the 
oppressed. You have to learn to be less impressed by words.

Lenin:
2) If you think it's appropriate to characterise revolutionaries by some 
of their more irritating elements, then it cuts both ways: you could as 
well throw your lot in with Gordon Brown or Hilary Clinton who, unlike 
Bob Avakian and those other terribly annoying people, are actually 
complicit in mass murder.

Me:
I don't think it is useful to describe Gordon Brown or Hilary Clinton as 
"reformists". For that matter, I think your thinking on reformism is a 
bit fuzzy. To use the term with precision, reformism means advocating 
piecemeal measures that will eventually lead to socialism. Michael 
Harrington was a reformist. So was Salvador Allende. The Democratic 
Party in the US has never been "reformist" in this sense. There is some 
value in describing British Labour between 1920 and 1960 as reformist, 
but it has evolved into a bourgeois party. So invoking Gordon Brown or 
Hilary Clinton does not make any sense here at all.

Lenin:
3) To describe a distinction is not to 'fetishize' anything. To pretend 
the distinction is 'pretty worthless' is not to comprehend anything 
about it. Clearly, it does mean something. It does inform strategy and 
analysis. It may not mean as much as it did in 1922, but it is patently 
not meaningless.

Me:
I tried to explain to you why it was dead wrong to invoke the united 
front strategy in terms of Lenin and Trotsky using the historical 
context. Let me take another shot at it. Trotsky said that united fronts 
consisted of nothing but an agreement to march together, usually against 
fascists, on a given day. Each party brought its own banners, etc. What 
does this have to do with forming Respect? The answer is nothing. Zero. 
Zip. Nada. Lenin and Trotsky never favored uniting revolutionaries and 
reformists in the same party, unless of course we are talking about the 
"French Turn". If Galloway was a "reformist", then a proper "Leninist" 
strategy would be to support him as a rope supports the neck of a man on 
the gallows--as Lenin put it. The SWP's problem is that it has not 
properly theorized these questions and now you are upset because this 
has been pointed out to you. Hopefully, you will be alert enough in the 
future and sure enough of your own ideas to challenge your leaders when 
they come up with bad ideas.

Lenin:
The basis of your intervention here is your own peculiar theoretical 
obsessions which prevent you from engaging with the particulars of the 
case. The document you purport to review does not raise the 
revolutionary-reformist distinction as a barrier in the way that you do. 
It simply at one point describes something that in fact took place: a 
coalition between those who think that one can change society 
fundamentally through parliament and those smaller number of people who 
remain convinced that the only strength the working class has ever had 
has been its own ability to struggle. We favoured keeping that coalition 
in place and in it we would argue, democratically, for strategies 
informed by our perspective, while accepting that we would not always 
win. George Galloway's problem in this case was his unwillingness to 
accept the original coalition because of his fear that we might win the 
arguments on strategy and was convinced that this would cost him votes.

Me:
I have no "theoretical obsessions". I am trying to explain to you and 
anybody who will listen that your party does not function like Lenin's 
party, no matter your appropriation of his good name. You will be doing 
more of a service to Lenin by reading Neil Harding's book than by naming 
your blog after him.

Lenin:
Now, do you want to try and engage with the issues or do you prefer to 
fuck around with non-sequiturs?

Me:
What a pompous little man you are on your own turf.





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