Broad Leftism / Re: Unity as organizational fetishism
ccc6639 at vip.cybercity.dk
Sun Feb 25 07:50:49 MST 1996
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>Ryan D got very heated over my remarks on the International Viewpoint
>article on a cold fusion party project in Turkey. I'll look at a couple =
Hugh, I must say that I agree very much with your letter. I think you =
make your points very clear.
Question: Why did Ryan get "very heated"?
I think we are dealing with the project of "broad-leftism", and I think =
it is necessary with a reply.
In an earlier letter someone (I can't find the letter at the moment) got =
very upset, when someone else on the list tried to question the idea of =
And Louis Proyect has argued at length about the failures of the =
revolutionary left. Louis makes some serious points about the concrete =
mistakes of the left - but then generalize them to a conclusion that is =
also - in practical terms - "Broad Leftism". (Though Louis theoretically =
recognizes the need for a socialist mass party he doesn't tell why or =
how we should build such a mass party.)
So I think it is time to put some arguments FOR the project of building =
a non-stalinist, leninist, bolshevik party - and in the proces pointing =
at some problems with "Broad Left"-projects.
I hope I'll be able to do it in a non-sectarian and concrete manner - I =
hate to read sectarian replies :-) ...
1. WHY a revolutionary socialist party?
The historical reason for a party of the bolshevik type is to "solve" a =
problem that arises every time a genuine working class mass movement =
comes to the point where it's "them or us" - what Lenin called "dual =
The problem is this: Most workers go into the struggle because they want =
to fight for their rights on specific issues. The logic of the struggle =
at a certain point develops into a "dual power-situation": Workers have =
formed workers' councils, have taken over parts of organizing society =
(transport, food supply etc.) and may or may not be armed to some =
extent. On the other hand: The structures of the old (capitalist) =
society still exist (parts of administration, main parts of the army, =
At that point the question for such a movement is not if it can win =
*concessions* - instead it becomes a struggle of life and death: Either =
the workers win power over society (and we will be free to discuss what =
to do with it) - or workers get beaten (and we know the revenge of =
In this situation the struggle *within* the working class becomes =
intensified: Shall or shall we not take power?
I think it is crucial in such a situation that a party has been built =
_in the years before_ - a party that is capable of winning this argument =
among the majority of the working class, and a party that is able to =
take the necessary action to _organize_ this "final uprising".
The *positive* historical evidence (or experience) comes from Russia in =
the period from February to October 1917. But it was not because of any =
"peculiarity" of the Russian Revolution. Essentially similar situations =
have occured lots of times since then: Germany 2-3 times in the years =
after 1917; Spain 1936-7; Chile 1972-3; Portugal 1974-5, Poland 1980-1 - =
just to mention a few. Tragically no bolshevik-type party existed and =
these revolutions were lost (In Spain and Chile drowned in blood, in =
Poland "only" 7-8 years of Jaruzelski military dictatorship).
We can discuss specifics about the historical events I've mentioned - =
but I think that to reject the core of my "scenario" is to reject =
workers revolution from below as such.
For me this is the essence of historical justification for spending so =
much time trying to build a revolutionary socialist party. And I think =
this should be the first focus for the discussion about "Which party?" - =
or maybe rather "Why a party at all?".
It follows from this - of course - that "Broad Left"-organizations is =
NOT capable of fulfilling such a task as the whole idea of broad-leftism =
is that it contains revolutionary as well as non-revolutionary activists =
and that the focus is not on revolution but on day-to-day-issues.
2. Which party?
I will not deal with this at length. Most of it follows from the task =
that I outlined above: It should be a party of activists and at the same =
time a party with a common perspective. At the time of the "final =
uprising" it should be deeply rooted in the struggles of the mass of the =
In this sense of the word it must be a "vanguard party" - a party which =
will be able to _lead_ the rest of the working class into action. (This =
is *not* a defense for "vanguardism" in sectarian circles.) It must be a =
party of the working class - but at the same a party which is *not the =
same as* the working class.
Such a party of course must be a *non-stalinist party* - stalinism was =
never about "socialism from below", never about the "self-emancipation" =
of the workers. Stalinism was the exact opposite, it was about =
oppressing, exploiting and/or killing workers everywhere it came near =
power - or about fighting "on behalf" of the workers and/or betraying =
workers whenever they were part of a mass movement that actually was =
challenging the old order.
This is not said to offend the stalinos on this list. It is said because =
compromizing with Stalinism as a historical-political current time and =
again has shown up to reject the centrality of working class =
self-activity as the basis for socialism.
3. Problems with Broad-Leftism
I have already argued that a broad-leftist organization will not be able =
to fulfill the task of "solving the dual power-situation". But some =
might argue that we could build "Broad Left"-organizations now, and then =
later (at some indefinite time, when the situation .... etc. etc.) we =
can build a "real mass revolutionary, bolshevik workers party". But I =
think there are several problems:
a) It matters today whether an organization wants revolution tomorrow. =
Whether the particular "Broad Left"-organization is focused on winning =
seats in parliament, influence trade union bureaucracy or it is a loose =
confederation of a wide range of activists - one thing is a common =
feauture: It is NOT focused on winning socialists for revolution.
Some say that "Broad Left"-organizations have a better climate for =
debate. If the organization is so loose that the debate has only little =
consequenses for how you act, then they may be right - but then: What's =
the point of an organization? A "Marxism List" would be enough. My =
experience is that if the debate is to be followed by action, the debate =
is at least as hard as in any "bolshevik" party - and mostly much more =
confused because members don't share a common theoretical framework (on =
at least the main issues). Broad Lefts will necessarily tend to downplay =
the role of clear politics.
b) When will the time be right for founding a "bolshevik type" party?
If you think that it will be easier when the struggle develops, I think =
you are wrong (except in the very general meaning that of course there =
will be more people willing to listen to and discuss socialist politics =
if more people are fighting). How would you explain to your co-fighters =
that NOW is the time to split from the refomists in this growing =
c) Rosa Luxemburg found out in the heat of the struggle that she had to =
split from the reformists. But it cost her life - and the victory of =
revolution - that she found out too late. When large parts of the German =
workers were prepared to fight she had not in time built an organization =
that could actually defeat the refomist hold over (the ideas of) the =
working class. Let us not repeat her mistake (and Trotsky's - who at =
least was so lucky that somebody else had built a party he could join).
Broad-Leftism is a blind path: It won't be able to lead workers to a =
victorious revolution. I think it is absolutely necessary to be clear on =
But having said this, I agree with Carlos (and Hugh, I guess?):
>Parties are born out of by-design programs, but reality, many
>times, change that for the better or the worse. Reformist parties
>which became either centrists or revolutionaries; left-wing =
>revolutionary organizations which became reformists. Mass =
>organizations which became sects. Sects that became big=20
We should judge Broad Left organizations in their concrete context:
Is it just a fusion of leftists, who have lost faith in building from =
their own politics, and who instead of reviding their political errors =
or mis-judgements just fuse with whoever is around? This has been the =
case of lots of former trotskyist, stalinist and maoist organizations - =
especially in the downturn of workers' struggles in Europe, US etc. in =
the 1980's and also in the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism after =
1989. In these cases they were first and foremost a turn to the right - =
mostly looking to parliament or Third World-ism (ANC, Sandinistas etc.) =
instead of workers' struggles.
Or is it an expression of broader layers of workers being fed up with =
bourgeois or reformist promises that never deliver? I think that is - at =
least to some extent - true for Scargill's SLP or (to a lesser extent) =
Arbetarlistan (Workers List) in Sweden. I'm not sure about the LPA in =
the US - will somebody comment?
What direction will they go? As for all of us it depends on two things: =
The politics of the organization (that's why Hugh Rodwell was right to =
insist on asking the question of the *politics* of "new Turkish party =
On the other hand the general climate of the class struggle - which is =
why it is in fact very interesting if it is true that we can identify =
left-splits from right-wing refomist parties (like SLP) or union leaders =
trying to build a workers party outside the bourgeois parties (USA). Is =
that a valid judgement? Comments?
We should fight alongside everyone who want to pursue independent =
working class politics on every possible issue. But we would be damned =
if we just clapped our small hands at their project. It's not enough to =
split organizationally from the right, there are political implications =
too. We should see it as an opportunity to win new socialist for =
building a real socialist alternative.
That is what unity is about: Fight together, but build an independent =
marxist bolshevik organization - not mixing all sorts of failed politics =
together and see what comes out.
ccc6639 at vip.cybercity.dk
PS: Of course it is much more interesting to discuss HOW we build =
"independent marxist bolshevik" organizations - but I think we first =
have to get down to the basis of WHY? I hope that'll excuse for my many =
PPS: I have problems with some of the abbreviations on this list:
- BTW (By the way ??)
Can anybody help?
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