"Legacy of Lenin" Symposium held
Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sun Nov 19 11:51:42 MST 1995
This is are brief, sketchy and biased impressions of a very well-
attended and important symposium on "The Legacy of Lenin" co-
sponsored by the Brecht Forum and the excellent journal "Science and
There were 4 panel discussions, but I was only able to attend 2 in full,
so I will limit my remarks to them.
1) The State and Revolution
Joseph Buttigieg spoke first. He is an expert on Gramsci who is on the
faculty of Notre Dame. Not surprisingly, he sees Lenin and Gramsci
as kindred spirits. He viewed Lenin's writings on the state in almost
completely abstract and philosophical terms, obviously in a manner
alien to the spirit of Lenin.
Alexander Buzgalin spoke next. He is a Russian economics professor
and leftist politician. He shared Buttigieg's academic approach, but
except at one level of abstraction higher. On the plus side, he seemed
to think that Lenin was a thinker that the new Russian left will have to
embrace in order to move forward.
John Ehrenberg spoke next and he was just terrific. He teaches at Long
Island University but has learned to express himself as clearly as an
ordinary worker. He has written a defense of the classical Marxist
understanding of the state called, not surprisingly, "Dictatorship of the
Proletariat". He mentioned to me that he is currently at work on a book
on "civil society". In his view, as well as in the view of people like Leo
Panitch and Ellen Meiksins Wood, it is impossible to think about
socialism without thinking about the state. Socialism, despite all the
trendy post-Marxist discourse about "civil society" and "new social
movements", can only move forward when the bourgeoisie is
expropriated. For this, the state--bodies of armed men and women--is necessary.
Mel Rothenberg spoke next. I believe he is a comrade of mine in CofC.
He is also a complete embarrassment. He spoke about what an
indictment it was of "socialism" that after controlling the state for 70
years or more, the workers of the Soviet bloc decided to bring in
capitalism. Mel must have a similar background to Irwin Silber,
another ex-Stalinist who wrote a hand-wringing book about "our"
failure as socialists to make it work in places like Russia and Poland,
etc. Rothenberg teaches arithmetic at the University of Chicago.
2) Imperialism, Globalization
Jim Lawler spoke first. He is a philosophy professor and president of
the Society for the Discussion of Philosophical Marxism, or some
other high-toned professional society, that would never accept me or
Groucho Marx as a member. Jim once again defended the New
Economic Policy in Russia as a long-term strategy. This idea, a highly
dialectical one, states that the way to build socialism in Russia is by
building capitalism. I had a months-long debate with Jim on this list
and hounded him some more during the discussion period here.
Harry Magdoff spoke next. He is one of the co-editors of "Monthly
Review" along with Paul Sweezy. These old-timers are the finest
Marxist economists in the world at whose feet I bow and scrape
unashamedly. I've been trying to work up enough nerve to ask Harry to
adopt me. Magdoff pursued a line of argument similar to Ehrenberg's:
the state is not disappearing as a factor during this period of intense
globalization, but is becoming more important than ever. He
mentioned that Chomsky had an opposite opinion. Harry wrote this
anarchist member of DSA and stated his disagreement. Good!
Carlos Vilas was the final speaker. Despite being a professor, he also
has an amazing knack for speaking in ordinary language. He is an
Argentinian who spent years in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas were
in power. In his view, as globalization by capital takes place, the
socialist movement must also develop global ties. I couldn't agree with
him more and see this Marxism list as an embryonic form of the type
of organization that socialists will need in the future.
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