Fire Ants

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Nov 20 07:25:32 MST 2002

Ben Courtice wrote:
> The question is what did the Bolsheviks, or the RSDLP, or the Iskra
> group, etc., do *before* the masses had a chance to see them in
> struggle, in the period before 1905? Granted many of them did work in
> the underground propaganda circles in the 1890s, and later did work in
> distributing Iskra across the Russian left. That's hardly mass work. But
> they still had some degree of leadership, e.g. the Iskra editorial
> board. These were people (like Plekhanov) who had earned leadership
> within the Marxist movement, not the mass movement.

When I say the mass movement, this is shorthand for the real living
struggle. One can be tied to this movement through leadership provided
to a trade union--like Eugene V. Debs and the railway union. Or one can
also be tied through the production of a Marxist analysis that provides
the framework for raising the struggle to a higher level. For example,
Lenin catapulted into the leadership of the Russian social democracy not
so much because he helped to win strikes (that being said, he used to
study the Czarist law codes late into the night in order to find
loopholes that would legitimize a strike), but because he developed an
analysis of the growth of capitalism in the Russian countryside. His
insights were used to help the social democracy in its ideological
struggles with Populism.

In the USA, when I look around me, I see both types of leaders having
emerged over the past 25 years or so. Juan Gonzalez was a leader of the
1968 student strike at Columbia University when he was with the Young
Lords Party. Later on, he became a trade union militant at the NY Daily
News where he wrote a column. A few years ago, his leadership was
crucial in beating back an attempt to destroy the union.

I see Mike Davis as an intellectual leader. His books on ecology and
problems in working class consciousness not only represent advanced
Marxist thinking, but are grounded in his experience as a working person
himself. At one point he was a truckdriver. Later on after moving to
England to work with NLR, he joined the British Trotskyist movement.

Unless the revolutionary movement we strive for can find a way to
elevate such people into key leadership positions, it will certainly not
succeed. The Russian, Cuban, Chinese, Vietnamese, Salvadoran and
Nicaraguan revolutionary movements did so. By emerging out of a living
mass movement, they mangaged to fuse with the natural leadership of the
workers, peasants and their allies.

The basic problem with Zinovievist formations is that their
close-minded, hierarchy-bound and conservative methodology tends to
exclude this possibility at the outset. They are seeking acolytes rather
than leaders.


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