Lenin Enrolment

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sun Aug 8 18:27:29 MDT 1999

>But this was written for the benefit of the Lenin Enrolment, not you and
>me. These were tens of thosuands of new recruits who had barely
>given over polishing the  icon lamps in their village church, who
>wore bast shoes and  whose own fathers had sometimes shot the
>first Commissars Lenin sent into the countryside with imported
>Fordson tractors because they believed that machinery was the
>work of the devil (as E H Carr  relates).

Actually, I am very leery of any attempt to artificially "proletarianize" a
Marxist party, having been a victim of one such turn myself. In the late
1970s, the SWP--Trotsky's favorite--decided that it was going to
proletarianize itself by setting artificial goals to get incorrigible
petty-bourgeois elements like myself to quit their programming jobs and get
factory jobs. And if, god forbid, you were working on a PhD at the time,
you really took heat.

Barnes's goal was the same as Stalin's, to make the party uncomfortable for
people who were critical-minded. He was determined to weed out potential
oppositionists, which meant anybody who had a reputation for being some
kind of intellectual. (The same kind of crap was going on in Tony Cliff's
sect in Australia at the same time. Gary McLennan was viewed as
inassimilable because he read widely outside the party press.)

As part of this turn, the SWP newspaper began to style itself
self-consciously as written for "workers," just like Stalin's pamphlet was.
The net result was that the newspaper became hostile to genuine Marxist
thought, since complexity was seen as "anti-working class".

Stalin pioneered this kind of workerist anti-intellectualism and it has
been a hallmark of many Stalinist parties and sects ever since the "Lenin
Enrolment". (It was one of the things that made it very difficult for
Peruvian intellectuals, no matter how much they hated Fujimori, to hook up
with the Shining Path.) It was such a combination of didacticism and appeal
to the Party Authority that characterized Marxist texts in Soviet
universities from the 1930s onward. This sort of writing does nothing
except make thinking people cynical about Marxism, which was widely
acknowledged in the 1970s when the Soviet regime began to unravel.

Would Lenin have endorsed this kind of "Marxism for Beginners" approach?
Something tells me he wouldn't have. According to Neil Harding, Lenin used
to lead a study group on Marx's Capital with workers in St. Petersburg in
the mid-1890s. Workers education centers were promoted by the social
democrats not only as a place to learn Marxist theory, but also where
propagandists could be trained. A contemporary social democrat wrote, "A
good propagandist must be able to answer questions as why there is day and
night, seasons of the year, and eclipses of the sun. He must be able to
explain the origin of the universe and the origin of the species, and must
therefore know the theories of Kant, Laplace, Darwin and Lyell. In the
programme must be included history and history of culture, political
economy, and the history of the working class."

A typical product of these training centers was the high-school dropout
Preobrazhensky, who despite lacking a college education, was an
accomplished economist. In his "New Economics", he attempted to apply the
method of "Capital" to the Soviet economy. He was an organizer in the Urals
who was constantly on the run from the Tsarist police and was one of the
early supporters of Lenin's April Theses. As a left oppositionist,
Preobrazhensky was always getting into trouble with Stalin and Bukharin. He
was exiled to Uralsk in 1927, then came back to capitulate to Stalin under
pressure. But that wasn't enough. He was considered too smart for his own
damned good and exiled permanently in 1933.

Although I endorse Michael Parenti's principled efforts to present a
nuanced understanding of life under Stalin, there is one point he made that
I have to take exception to in this light. Parenti says, "What we do know
of Stalin's purges is that many victims were Communist party officials,
managers, military officers, and other strategically situated individuals
whom the dictator saw fit to incarcerate or liquidate." While most of us
have a healthy hatred for managers, military officers, and officials of any
sort, the problem is it is exactly such middle layers that traditionally
have the time and the ability to develop as intellectuals. And it is within
the intelligentsia that Marxist thought finds the greatest receptivity
except during a revolutionary crisis, when such ideas pervade all of society.

I am not talking about traditional intellectuals of the sort employed by
universities or think-tanks. Rather I am speaking in the Gramscian sense of
"organic intellectuals". It was exactly this layer that was the target of
Stalin's various purges. The "Lenin Enrolment" was intended to assign a
higher weight to raw working class recruits in the party who would be much
more likely to stand in awe of Stalin and not present a political challenge
like an "organic intellectual" would. Mark said, "Ordinary people (there is
much evidence for this) regretted the purges and the arbitrariness and
unlawful basis of much state activity, but they also by and large
understood the necessity for it."

But this the problem, after all.

When political life consists of ordinary people's awestruck acceptance of
Stalin in an atmosphere of intimidation directed against the middle layers
above the working class, you end up with a very tenuous basis for a stable
workers state. What is missing are transmission belts for the core values
of the state and the society. If party officials, scientists, etc., are in
a constant state of fear of being denounced and sent to prison for stepping
out of bounds, their defense of core socialist values will by necessity
have a risk-free but routine character. Why not just "get along" by
reciting chapter and verse from the myriad of books and magazines created
in the mold of "Foundations of Leninism", even though they have scant
relevance to the crisis of Soviet society?

Furthermore, when the Great Man died, it led immediately to a legitimation
crisis which the USSR never really recovered from. When official Marxism
became a series of catechistic texts mastered in Soviet universities, it
proved inadequate to the task of preserving the socialist project under
changing circumstances. Stalin ruled through a combination of charisma and
intimidation, but post-Stalin Soviet Russia required a form of socialism
based on voluntary participation not afraid of debate. Stalin's successors,
as it turned out, found it easier to switch over to the capitalist side
rather than return to this kind of socialism which gave birth to the nation.

Louis Proyect

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