Forwarded from Jurriaan (swearing)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jan 9 13:58:28 MST 2001

Dear Louis,

To kick off with, I wanted to complete some remarks to what I said about
swearing to Chris Williams in the exchange you published. Everybody knows
that working class people swear and curse, just like anybody else, and that
it can be a relief to do it (let off steam), or a tactic. You can swear and
curse in a way that lets somebody else know clearly and exactly what you
think of them at a moment in time. One can moralise about it and say people
shouldn't use foul language, but sometimes it can be appropriate, or, you
simply cannot help yourself. Fine and good.

However what happens in the Russian revolution and afterwards under Stalin
? Opponents get called all sorts of names, because they have political
views which don't coincide with the majority line. The favourite is "petty
bourgeois deviation".

With Lenin, the swearing is still reasonably controlled (except in the heat
of the civil war) and he uses it for a specific purpose: to anathemise or
castigate people who obstruct what his party is trying to achieve. He
points out particular people as examples of the kind of ideas or practices
he doesn't want, and rips the shit out of them, without any mercy whatever,
he completely annihilates them.

Now as it happens, I think Lenin is often wrong, he wrongly caricatures
people as petty bourgeois etc. (and even if they are, so what; Lenin
himself is from a pettybourgeois professional background, he studied to be
a lawyer). But OK, you can say, he has a specific political purpose with
it, it's not arbitrary most of the time.

The important thing to notice is that Lenin is a model, and that a whole
string of his followers start to imitate his behaviour (including Trotsky
as soon as he has joined the bolsheviks). They, too, start to curse people
around them for their "pettybourgeois deviations", etc. (bear in mind
Russian society at this time has a largely oral communication culture, with
a high rate of illiteracy). But they don't have the same level of political
awareness as Lenin does, so a lot of the time it is a nonsense, it is

Under Stalin it gets still worse, because the new bureaucratic elite starts
to use the political phrases and slogans used by Lenin at will, to
victimise and ostracise any idea, person or tendency that is critical of
its rule, or a potential threat. There is no real theory behind it anymore,
it is just political gangsters asserting themselves.

This has nothing more to do with a bit of healthy swearing, it is a total
political nonsense. So-and-so is called a "right-wing degenerate" but it is
completely dishonest, the language does not reflect reality. By the time
the mass social democratic parties are labelled "social-fascist" (from
1928-29 onwards) the cursing and swearing has become symptomatic of a
political disaster in the making.

Disaster there was, of course, since the failure of an effective united
front of the left enabled Hitler to consolidate his position, and Hitler
"ranted" even more than the communist international did. (Of course I am
not suggesting that Hitler's ascendancy can be attributed to the bad use of
language, but it played a certain role).

The final phase of the cursing and swearing is where it becomes part of
official communist ideology, and history-books are written to explain how
"petty bourgeois deviations" were exterminated, and how we won the war over
the "running dogs of imperialism".

The absurd conclusion as regards swearing is the "cultural revolution" in
China, where Beethoven and Goethe together with Shakespeare, piano players
and mathematicians become "bourgeois detritus" etc. Now pardon me for
saying this, but this is FUCKING MAD in my view, it's anti-human, the a
bureaucratic nightmare.

So anyway this is the basic thought behind my statement earlier, that I
don't like that "Marxist-Leninist" culture, and I don't like the swearing.
Because many self-styled Marxist-Leninists, Maoists and Trotskyists still
try to copy a political language from the past, and imitate a political
style that is inappropriate today.

Certainly, you can decide to characterise the political opposition in a
particular way; that's politics, and everybody knows politics is also a
dirty business. But it should be done exactly, correctly, so that people
understand, and there is no confusion about WHY somebody is called a

Personally, I think serious semiotic analysis would reveal that a lot of
so-called "Marxism-Leninism" has NO content OTHER THAN swearing and
cursing, it IS simply a bunch of swearwords, accusations, insults and
blames projected by some idiot. And it will attract only people who are
into that sort of thing.

The baffling thing is, when there are so many good models for political
style, why try to copy the style (the style, let me emphasise, not the
method !) of a bunch of revolutionaries from a century ago, who didn't
really have any idea about building a socialist civilisation before they
had political success ?

Well I could spice this up, and so forth, but I will leave it just like that.


Louis Proyect
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