Forwarded from sclark at (posted to Marxmail home page)

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Thu Feb 7 12:48:29 MST 2002

Louis Proyect wrote (Forwarded from sclark):
> Lenin's second point concerned "the spontaneity of the masses and the
> consciousness of the Social-Democrats" (373).

There is a crucial point to underline here. Lenin did NOT condemn the
spontaneous movement itself -- he condemned the Social Democrats
(communist party) for _tailing_ that spontaneous movement. Without a
spontaneous movement a communist party can't do much except  fight with
each other (as often occurs on this maillist).

If we abstract from it carefully, I think Lenin's point still retains
its validity -- but what it means in any given historical context needs
to be worked out in that context. Lenin can't do our thinking for us.

One difficulty is that it is too easy to see too close parallels or
identities between the Russia of 1902 and the United States of today.
References to the "Third Period" are an example: What, pray tell, was
our "first period"? And how do we "end" a period that has not even, for
us, arrived?

Tailing the spontaneous movement (when there is one to tail) is
classical opportunism -- i.e., it flows from underestimating the
strength (especially the cultural and ideological strength) of the
capitalist class, overestimating the strength of the working class. That
leads to the delusion that "incremental gains" can lead us to socialism.

But _ignoring_ or expressing _contempt_ for the spontaneous movement is
classical LEFT opportunism -- i.e. it flows from OVERestimating the
strength (particularly the cultural and ideological strength) of the
capitalists, underestimating the strength of the working class.

One way to avoid too literal a translation of WITBD to current
conditions is to read it in conjunction with a work which, since its
context is so utterly unlike our own, we cannot possibly think it
applies directly and literally to our conditions (though some in the
'70s made this error) -- I mean Mao's _A Report on an Investigation of
the Peasant Movement in Hunan_. Condensing crudely -- Mao was saying
that in its anxiety not to "tail" that movement the Party was failing to
honor it sufficiently, to see in it the possibilities it offered for
revolutionary activity. Contempt as well as tailing disables marxists
from bringing their perspective to the popular movement.

A final (or temporally final) point -- "Spontaneous Movement" is a
misleading term. Nothing is ever wholly spontaneous; someone is doing
some thinking though we might not know his or her name or even that he
or she exists. And before we can have an impact on that thinking, before
we can correct it if it needs correcting (as the Peasant Movement in
Hunan did), we have to know who those people are and work with them.


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