Lenin Enrolment

M A Jones mark at SPAMjones118.freeserve.co.uk
Mon Aug 9 02:05:28 MDT 1999

Louis Proyect  wrote:

> 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
> factory jobs. And if, god forbid, you were working on a PhD at the time,
> you really took heat.

Louis, will all due respect, I'm going to have difficulty equating the SWP
with the Soviet Communist Party in 1924. I think arguing by analogy
has didactic uses, but they are strictly limited and it might be better
to resort to examining the actual historical record. I'm happy to learn
from you about the CPUSA and the SWP. I'm not so happy at the inference that
the history of these parties tells us much about what happens when a Party
achieves state power in a  country like Russia in the 1920s, when there
were numerous well-known difficulties, economic and social, and when the
working class was so small compared to the peasantry that it
risked being swallowed by it 'like a pinch of salt in a bog', as Gorky
put it. I think utopian schemes for cultural revolution in the countryside,
for as it were prefiguring Mao or Castro are all very well; but what the
record shows is that actually many such initiatives were tried, and with
considerable success; but they were not enough and it was also necessary
to entrench a strong, even ruthless, state power; that was what the Civil
War in Russia was fought to win. If you read contemporary Soviet fiction,
poetry, newspapers, look at the cinema, at street agitation etc, then you
do not see the kind of thing which you seem to think happened, ie a harsh,
repressive state imposing its ideological whims on a dull, terrorised
populace. You see a tremendous social, ideological and cultural ferment.
To miss that is actually to miss almost everything. But rather than
talk about it, I'll try to post concrete examples. The party and its
attempts to induct new members and inculcate them in its doctrine, while
at the same time teaching them to read and write (not all Russian peasants
were college drop-outs like Preobrazhensky) and EVEN while giving
many of the ethnic minorities an alphabet so that these oral cultures
could acquire a literature - was only one among many processes
going on (BTW we should make the imaginative leap of understanding
what acquiring literacy means: it means getting a stake, finding
yourself in the world, achieiving dignity and personal and social worth,
it means knowing at last what the fuck has been going on all this time,
above all, it means getting a life. The textbooks may look a bit ABC
to you and me, but that's because that's exactly what they were - literacy

> Barnes's goal was the same as Stalin's,

This, Louis, is what I really seriously take leave to doubt.

> 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.

Well, I've recently been rereading what Lenin actually said about these
things, as opposed to what we think we remember he said or what Neil Harding
(a workmanlike, pedestrian English professor) thought he said. So you think
Lenin's attitude was different from Stalin's? Come off it. Don't make me
start quoting Lenin at you.

You make some points about the purges. Once again, I can only enjoin us all
to spend more time reading at least some good secondary sources, which does
not mean taking Parenti as any kind of authority because really he is
not. But I'm going to be posting more on this and on Stalin's privileging of
workers over middle class salarymen, so won't begin now. Let us not
forget however, that this was supposed to be a *working class* revolution
which put exactly the workers in power. The questions you raise,
about Stalin's effect in the masses, about the 'Cult' and about what
happened after he died, are ones we have still to answer, meaning that you
have not answered them even if you think you have.

Mark Jones

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