Marx, Engels and Lenin and the party question (was Re: To Juan (PS))

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Aug 1 06:06:59 MDT 1999

> I believe Lenin's approach was justified in the leading European capitalist
> countries. I believe it was fundamentally misapplied in the United States,
> where the underdevelopment of the workers movement meant that the
> and labor aristocracy found expression in craft unions and directly in
> bourgeois politics, and the Debsian Socialist Party as well as the IWW were
> in fact organized expressions of the movement towards communism by the most
> committed working class fighters.

The final installment of  a series of articles I wrote on German Communism and
the "Bolshevization" turn of the 1924 Comintern:

Like the German party, the American Communists were molded by the Comintern
during the 1920s. And like the German party, the transformation took some
In 1917, the people who would go on to form the Communist Party in this
had no inkling of what a "Marxist-Leninist" party was. For example, Charles E.
Ruthenberg explained Bolshevism in 1919 not as something "strange and new",
something similar to the revolutionary traditions of the United States. His
Socialist-syndicalist background led him to believe that the Soviet state
was a
"Socialist industrial republic."

The process of transforming the American movement into a caricature of Lenin's
party took a number of years and it was the authority of the Comintern that
made this transformation possible. After all, if the Russians tell us to have
"democratic centralism", they must know what they're talking about. They do
have state power.

The first organizational expression of the American Communist movement showed
its roots in the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs. The party was organized on
the basis of branches rather than cells, as the Comintern dictated. Another
feature of the American Communist movement that was distinct from what is
commonly known as "democratic centralism" was the open debates that various
factions took part in. While it is beyond the scope of this article to trace
all the divisions within the American movement, suffice it to say that they
tended to reflect very real differences about the character of the
movement--whether it should orient to the more radicalized foreign language
speaking workers, or develop roots in the English speaking sector of the
The Comintern, needless to say, used all of its power to shape the
direction of
American revolutionary politics despite Zinoviev's open admission in 1924 that
"We know England so little, almost as little as America."

The Fourth National Convention of the Communist Party was held in Chicago,
Illinois in August, 1925. This convention was inspired by the Bolshevization
World Congress of the Comintern that was held in 1924. The American delegates
came to the United States with the understanding that their party would adopt
more stringent organizational norms in line with Zinoviev's directives. To
you a sense of the importance of the language question, the proceedings of the
convention report that there were 6,410 Finnish members as opposed to 2,282
English speaking members.

The American party had its own dissident minority that the new
policy could be used as a cudgel against. This minority was led by one Ludwig
Lore, who was the main demon of the American movement as Leon Trotsky was in
the Soviet movement. The Majority Resolution laid down the law against Lore:

"We also endorse fully and pledge our most active support to the Comintern and
Parity Commission decisions providing for the liquidation of Loreism in our
Party. We demand that the Party be united in a uncompromising struggle against
this dangerous right wing tendency. We pledge our fullest support to the whole
Comintern program for Bolshevizing our Party, including a militant fight
against the right wing, the organization of the Party on the basis of shop
nuclei, and the raising of the theoretical level of our membership."

This is quite a mouthful. They are going to liquidate a dangerous right wing
tendency and reconstitute the party on the basis of factory cells all in one
fell swoop. And "the raising of the theoretical level of our membership" can
mean only one thing. They are going to get politically indoctrinated by the
Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin faction in order to destroy all of its opponents
wherever they appear.

Poor Ludwig Lore was in a political fight with other leading Communists about
how to relate to the Lafollette Farmer-Labor Party. This third party was an
expression of American populism and it was not clear which direction it was
going. The disagreements over how to approach it are similar to the sorts of
disagreements that crop up today about how to regard, for example, the Nader
presidential campaign.

So Lore found himself in a bitter dispute about a purely American political
question. What he didn't figure out, however, was that he had no business
open-minded about Trotsky while this dispute was going on. Lore had befriended
Trotsky during a visit to the USSR in 1917 and retained warm feelings toward
him, just as the French Communist Boris Souvarine did. Not surprisingly, Lore
had very little use for Zinoviev. On one occasion, according to Theodore
Draper, Lore told Zinoviev to his face that his information about the American
labor movement was questionable. Considering Zinoviev's track record in
Germany, this hardly comes as a surprise.

What really got his name in the Comintern's little black book, however, was
caustic observations about the infamous "Bolshevization" World Congress of
March, 1924:

"The Third International changes its tactics, nay, even its methods, every
and if need be, even oftener. It utterly disregards its own guiding
crushes today the these it adopted only yesterday, and adapts itself in every
country to new situations which may offer themselves. The Communist
International is, therefore, opportunistic in its methods to the most extreme
degree, but since it keeps in its mind the one and only revolutionary aim, the
reformist method works for the revolution and thus loses its opportunistic

This was just what the Comintern would not tolerate at this point, an
independent thinker. Lore was doomed.

The "Resolution on Bolshevization of the Party" spells out how the American
Communists would turn over a new leaf and get tough with all the right-wing
elements in the party. "...the task of Bolshevization presents itself
concretely to our Party as the task of completely overwhelming the
organizational and ideological remnants of our social-democratic inheritance,
of eradicating Loreism, of making out of the Party a functioning organism of
revolutionary proletarian leadership." And so Lore was expelled at this

The party was re-organized on the basis of factory cells and a rigid set of
organizational principles were adopted. For example, it stipulated that
"Wherever three or more members, regardless of their nationality or present
federation membership, are found to be working in the same shop, they shall be
organized into a shop nucleus. The nucleus collects the Party dues and takes
over all the functions of a Party unit." What strikes one immediately is that
there is absolutely no consideration in the resolution about whether or not a
factory-based party unit makes political sense. It is simply a mechanical
transposition of Comintern rules, which in themselves are based on an
undialectical understanding of Lenin's party.

The expulsion of Lore and the new organizational guidelines was adopted
unanimously by the delegates, including two men who would go on to found
American Trotskyism: James P. Cannon and Vincent Ray Dunne. Cannon and Dunne
are regarded as saints by all of the Trotskyist sects, but nobody has ever
tried to explain why Cannon and Dunne could have cast their votes for such
abysmal resolutions. There really is only one explanation: their understanding
of Bolshevism came from Zinoviev rather than Lenin.

Cannon's myopia on these sorts of questions stayed with him through his entire
life. In his "First Ten Years of American Communism", he describes Lore as
someone who never "felt really at home in the Comintern" and who never became
an "all-out communist in the sense that the rest of us did." That says more
about Cannon than it does about Lore. Who could really feel at home in the
Comintern? This bureaucratic monstrosity had replaced the heads of the German
Communist Party 3 times in 3 years. It had intruded in the affairs of the
German Communist Party as well, coming up with the wrong strategy on a
consistent basis. Those who "felt at home" in the Comintern after 1924, as
James P. Cannon did, would never really be able to get to the bottom of the
problem. Furthermore, Cannon himself took the organizational principles of the
1925 Communist Party convention and used them as the basis for American
Trotskyism as well.

Zinoviev was responsible for not only ostracizing Trotsky in the Russian
but Lore in the American party as well. Zinoviev was a master of casting
into Menshevik hell. Cannon himself was plenty good at this as well. Over and
over again in American Trotskyist history, there were others who were to face
ostracism just like Lore. Schachtman in the 1930s, Cochran in the 1950s and
Camejo in the 1980s. In every case, the current party leadership was defending
the long-term historical interests of the proletariat while the dissident were
reflecting petty-bourgeois Menshevik influences. What garbage.

Cannon's views on Zinoviev were those of a student toward a influential
professor. In "The First Ten Years of American Communism", Cannon pays tribute
to the dreadful Zinoviev: "As far as I know, Zinoviev did not have any special
favorites in the American party. The lasting personal memory I have of him is
of his patient and friendly efforts in 1925 to convince both factions of the
necessity of party peace and cooperation, summed up in his words to Foster
which I have mentioned before: 'Frieden ist besser.' ('Peace is Better')."

What a stunning misunderstanding of the events of 1924-1925. Zinoviev had
broken the back of the German Communist Party and the Soviet party and now was
doing everything he could to destroy any independent voices in the American
party. Zinoviev himself would soon be a victim of the same process.
Bolshevik would become the Menshevik of 1926 and 1927.

The sectarian and rigidity of the Comintern party-building model are still
upheld by the Trotskyists and other "Marxist-Leninists" of today. If these
groups were as critical of their own history and ideas as they were of the
ruling class, much improvement could obtain. This is not something to be hoped
for. Those of us who prefer to think for ourselves must create our own
organizational and political solutions, just as Lenin did in
turn-of-the-century Russian. Any effort which falls short of this will not
produce the outcome we so desperately need: the abolition of the capitalist
system and the development of socialism.

Louis Proyect

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