Priorities

Apsken at SPAMaol.com Apsken at SPAMaol.com
Sat May 6 14:38:06 MDT 2000


Lou wrote,

> Having read CLR James fairly exensively and after
>  having a cursory look at Marty Glaberman's new book on James's
>  organizational ideas, it is clear that James had never addressed this
>  problem. [the "democratic centralist" model]

    If so, that is only because the Johnson-Forest group, to say nothing of
other political parties led by James, such as the Peoples National Movement
in Trinidad, did not practice democratic centralism.

    By the time I joined the Facing Reality organization, it was regarded by
our latter-day Bolshevik faithful as virtually anarchist in its lack of party
discipline. Because James specifically rejected the concept of a vanguard
party, many of his followers believed there was essentially no need for
Marxist organization at all. Although I haven't read Marty's book, I know
that he had planned for a long time to write it to correct that misimpression.

    James believed that Marxists (Leninists) had no special contribution to
make as leaders of insurrection or government, so the principal theme of the
Fourth International ("The Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership") was absurd,
yet solving that alleged crisis was Trotsky's and his followers' number one
political issue, hence their fanatical adherence to democratic centralism.
(Don't blame Cannon for that; he was carrying out his master's policy.) In
France, James's followers in Socialisme ou Barbarie used to put the word
LEADERSHIP in block capitals in their polemics against Trotskyism, to express
appropriate contempt for that essential Fourth International doctrine.

    If providing strategic and tactical leadership of the revolutionary
struggle is not the principal duty of the Marxist organization, what is? For
James, it the purpose was principally to distill and reflect the
revolutionary experience of the class as a whole, to overcome its fragmented
condition. Thus the importance of the popular Marxist press, not principally
as an agitational organ, but as a voice for workers and oppressed people,
became paramount. For James personally, it required his simultaneous
involvement in national-liberation movements in the colonial countries and
socialist movements in the metropolitan world.

    These themes were developed in James's pamphlet Every Cook Can Govern,
and in the book Indignant Heart by Matthew Ward (the Black auto worker who as
Charles Denby later edited News and Letters).

    I will be interested to see what evidence Lou can offer to support his
statement about Cochran's organizational views and practice. Former
Cochranites who joined the YPSL in the late 1950s when I did attributed the
ASU's liquidation of vanguardism to its general mood of pessimism in the wake
of McCarthyism. Sol's attacks on me for allegedly failing to take account of
that tends to confirm those accounts.

    I have written before, but I'll repeat: In my opinion, the independent
Cochranite project was a failure, but its legacy after dissolution,
transforming Monthly Review from an ultra-Stalinist path (proudly reprinting
its enthusiastic support of the Moscow purge trials) into a non-sectarian,
thoughtful journal of the broad Marxist left, is praiseworthy.

Ken Lawrence





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