Reply to Rahul Mahajan's comment on intellectuals & populace.
rahul at peaches.ph.utexas.edu
Mon Apr 15 09:01:26 MDT 1996
>It is a little unclear to me what you mean, Rahul?
>Also I think you are unfair to Lenin. Wasn't it one
>of the main reasons for the split with the Mensheviks
>that Lenin *didn't* want "the intellectuals as the leaders
>and the workers as the followers"?
I explicitly said that I was talking about what Lenin did, not what he
wrote or said. Most of all, he wanted the one intellectual who understood
everything -- himself -- in charge. There was no other justification for
turning a budding workers' democracy into a dictatorship, whether of the
party, or of Lenin himself.
>As I remember it, one of the reasons why Lenin wanted
>a centralized and disciplined party was to discipline
>the intellectuals - not as you write:
>> the uncritical subordination of the intellectuals
>> to the workers
>- but subordination to the common goal: socialist
Meaningless words. In practice, this means subordination of all the other
intellectuals to what the small group of intellectuals who are in charge
say is the "current stage" of socialist revolution. Yes, Lenin wanted to
discipline the intellectuals, not including himself. This is a recipe for
>What do you mean by "organically connected"?
>If by that you mean through a disciplined party - yes.
Absolutely not. The disciplined party paradigm is dead anyway. It never got
anywhere in the west and it won't get anywhere in the future in the rest of
the world. Western societies, insofar as they have a popular political
life, are based on pluralism. Furthermore, none of the issues around which
there is popular mobilization involve a direct no-holds-barred resistance
to capital. It is sheer idealism to think that your little "disciplined
party" of 30 or 300 people can either make some direct impact on this state
of affairs, or be in any meaningful sense the nucleus of a group that can
do so. We need a way to construct a movement that utilizes all these
different trends, that can eventually carry through a maximum program
without necessarily ever evolving even into a coherent party with a set
platform, let alone a disciplined party. If this can't be done, and I have
only the vaguest idea of how to set about it, there is not even the
faintest shadow of a prospect for a revolution in any first world country.
In the third world, also, there is no potential for a disciplined and
genuinely revolutionary party to build a mass base, at least without first
being destroyed. There as well, almost the only progressive currents we see
are on the same basis of grassroots mobilization around single issues,
preservation of traditional ways of life, and things of this nature. Anyone
who still thinks that revolution by putsch is still possible in any but the
most insignificant banana republics has no conception of the power of the
modern state and the depoliticization of the populace. If they ever do
rise, and events sometimes seem to have a logic of their own, you can bet
your little disciplined parties will contribute only by trying to hijack
the rising when it is a fait accompli.
>But the problem with "professional intellectuals" as a
>social stratum is that often their role has been one
>of laid-back advices, doing intellectual services to
>the movement etc. One of Lenins arguments against
>the broad and undisciplined concept of a socialist
>organization, which the Mensheviks favoured, was not
>that the intellectuals shouldn't enjoy the freedom of
>thought, but that there should be some relationship
>between thought, talk and action.
>It should be obvious that "professional intellectuals"
>are much more inclined to cut that relationship than
Of course, this is true. What do you want to do about it? Lobotomize the
society? That was the Soviet solution, and also that of every other
communist country, even fairly liberal ones like Cuba.
Remember that Lenin's main arguing point against the broad and
undisciplined concept of organization was that it is impossible to work
with something like that in a police state, as tsarist Russia was. In a
Western plural democracy, not only is that possible, it seems to me it is
The question of the relation of the intellectuals to the movement is a
thorny one, but any movement that starts by explicitly subordinating them,
even if onmly to "the tasks of the socialist revolution," will end
inexorably in totalitarian thought-control. The wieght of evidence here is
on my side.
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