Leninism?

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sat May 11 10:42:42 MDT 1996


On Sat, 11 May 1996, Robert Malecki wrote:

"Only a world party of Leninists with a program of proletarian revolution
can save the day."

Louis:

Nobody on the list calls for a "Leninist" party more often than Robert
M. The problem is that he really has no idea of what Lenin's party was
all about. His idea of a Leninist or Bolshevik party is similar to the one
held by ultraleft sectarians like the Spartacist League in the United States.
These cartoon versions of Bolshevism have nothing to do with the
party that existed in Russian history and that took power in 1917.
Furthermore, one of the big problems the left has faced over the last
thirty years is that this misunderstanding of Bolshevism had become so
widespread. We need to overcome this fake version of Bolshevism in
order to move forward.

To begin with, at the time of the Bolshevik/Menshevik split, Lenin's
goal was simply to create a party in Russia based on the model of the
German Social Democracy. In his writings from that period, he repeats
over and over again that Kautsky had accomplished more than
anybody in building the socialist movement. This should come as no
surprise since Lenin was a disciple of George Plekhanov, the man
most responsible for introducing Marxism to Russia. Plekhanov's goal
was to build a section of the Second International in Russia. So was
Lenin's.

There is a wide-spread impression that the split of the Bolsheviks with
the Mensheviks had something to do with Lenin's rejection of the
Social Democratic model. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The big fight at the conference was with the Economism trend. All
Russian Social Democrats were united against this current which
opposed the creation of a unified Russian socialist party and which
held the idea that struggles should not go beyond the local plant-gate
level.

The split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks that did take
place at this conference were over secondary issues and had more to do
with which group of individuals were more capable of moving Russian
socialism forward. Evidence of this is that George Plekhanov, who
would emerge as one of the most shameful supporters of WWI, voted
with the Bolsheviks.

During this period, Lenin did not invent something called "democratic
centralism". Democratic centralism as a concept existed throughout
the Second International and Lenin was simply trying to apply it to
Russian conditions. All it meant was that party members had to act in
a united fashion when it came to public actions such as
demonstrations, strikes, votes in Parliament, etc. Discipline simply
meant not acting against these actions once the party had voted in
favor of them.

This had nothing to do with the weird idea of a "party line" that
groups like the Spartacist League understand as democratic
centralism. This notion that everybody in the party has to agree in
public with party "positions" has nothing to do with Bolshevik
practice. When members of the Spartacist League defended Soviet
intervention in Afghanistan *to a person*, they did so with the
understanding that if someone disagreed with this position, they would
have to wait until a party convention to argue for their minority
viewpoint. This is nonsense. Bolsheviks used to debate their
differences in public continuously. Furthermore, there were very few
explusions from the Bolshevik party. Hardly anybody was every
expelled for speaking out against the "party line" since such a thing
did not exist.

Iskra, the Bolshevik newspaper, was not published in order to defend a
"party line". Lenin saw the newspaper as a vehicle for the expression
of ideas *within Marxism*. The whole idea of Iskra was to allow
various points of view within Marxism to contend with each other on
the printed page so as to allow clarification of the political problems
facing the Russian working-class. The discussion and debate that took
place in Iskra would help to develop a program for socialism in
Russia. Iskra had more in common with our Marxism mailing list than
the bizarre newspapers of the "Marxist-Leninist" newspapers which
never give a clue of any differences inside the group.

Robert M. would be surprised to know that the Sandinistas of the late
1970s and early 1980s had much more in common with the Bolsheviks
than the type of sectarian model that he embraces. The "Marxist-
Leninist" model that he grew up believing in is a myth. I would only
ask him to find out a little more about the real Bolshevism before he
goes back to throwing the word around in a reckless manner. To use a
words like "Leninism" or "Bolshevism" in such a sloppy way not only
cheapens language, it makes political dialog impossible. Before we debate out
the need for a "Bolshevik" party, we have to come to an agreement
about what it is. Robert M. has his own definition which is 180
degrees different from Lenin's. Perhaps if he had a better idea of what
Lenin's original project was all about, he would end up saying
something like, "Ugh, what a middle-class swamp Lenin was building,
that's not for me."







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