Shane Hopkinson post of Peter Boyle reformatted

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Sep 27 06:54:26 MDT 2003


I think the problem with Draper's "Toward a New Beginning" is that it poses
an organisational schema to get around some real challenges of building a
mass revolutionary party, in short, a loose, non- membership,
multi-tendency network based around a revolutionary "political center". He
says this is the actual Bolshevik experience in building a mass
revolutionary party but in doing so he actually has to misrepresent and
skim over the real experience of the Bolsheviks and throw out valuable
lessons from Lenin.

It also forces Draper to treat Bolshevik organisation outside the
historical framework -- a mirror of the error of those "Leninists" who
think they can distill from the Bolshevik experience a timeless
organisational formula.

The Bolsheviks built their party through a complex struggle that involved
several very different stages and organisational forms, including:

1900-1904: As an emerging faction in the multi-tendency Russian Social
Democratic Labour Party, then largely a party of radicalised intellectuals
with a weak base in the working class.[ "As a current of political thought
and as a political party, Bolshevism has existed since 1903", Lenin was to
note in LWC.]

1905-1906: The revolutionary upsurge which caught both Bolshevik and
Menshevik factions by surprised but in which the RSDLP opened up won a mass
base.

1907-1912: The years of reaction, sharp conflict and eventual total
organisational split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

1912-1914: When the new Bolshevik party grows rapidly on the back of
increasing working class militancy with its revolutionary class- struggle
program.

1914-1917: The First World War and the historic betrayal of Social
Democracy in the face of patriotic hysteria and mass slaughter.

1917-1923: The tumultuous years of revolutionary insurrection, government
and civil war.

"Only the history of Bolshevism during the entire period of its existence
can satisfactorily explain why it has been able to build up and maintain,
under most difficult conditions, the iron discipline needed for the victory
of the proletariat,"

There were great differences in the organisational forms that Lenin argued
for and used in each of these periods. No single organisational schema,
including Draper's, fits all these stages.

"Only the history of Bolshevism during the entire period of its existence
can satisfactorily explain why it has been able to build up and maintain,
under most difficult conditions, the iron discipline needed for the victory
of the proletariat."

And of course, it wasn't a matter of developing the perfect organisational
form through experience, as some "Leninists" have argued. Indeed this is
one way in which some of the sharp early struggles are conveniently brushed
aside. Lenin, repudiated What Is To Be Done, is one such argument, when all
he did later was to warn readers to see it as a polemic in a particular
context (a warning that we should heed for all polemics).

But every serious study of the Bolsheviks captures the fact that this was a
struggle to politically and organisationally centralise and prepare the
revolutionary movement. Despite their very different political and
philosophical outlooks, for instance, both Marcel Liebman (Leninism Under
Lenin) and Paul Le Blanc (Lenin And The Revolutionary Party) capture this
dynamic.

Such a process obviously cannot be carried out by some little socialist
group's organisational decrees. Every single bit of meaningful and
sustainable political centralisation has to be won politically. Real
vanguards have to earn that position, etc.

"The first questions to arise are: how is the discipline of the
proletariat's revolutionary party maintained? How is it tested? How is it
reinforced? First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard
and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity, self-sacrifice and
heroism. Second, by its ability to link up, maintain the closest contact,
and -- if you wish -- merge, in certain measure, with the broadest masses
of the working people -- primarily with the proletariat, but also with the
non-proletarian masses of working people. Third, by the correctness of the
political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its
political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from
their own experience, that they are correct. Without these conditions,
discipline in a revolutionary party really capable of being the party of
the advanced class, whose mission it is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and
transform the whole of society, cannot be achieved. Without these
conditions, all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and
end up in phrasemongering and clowning. On the other hand, these conditions
cannot emerge at once. They are created only by prolonged effort and
hard-won experience. Their creation is facilitated by a correct
revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not a dogma, but assumes final
shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass
and truly revolutionary movement."

I think any serious socialist would agree with this, as does Draper in
"Toward a New Beginning":

"The painstaking formation of the Bolshevik tendency accomplished three
things in the course of time three things which, it seems to me, apply in
almost every case, and certainly apply to what we are obliged to do.

"The process of formation of the Bolshevik tendency

"1.created a body of doctrine, a body of political literature expressing a
unified kind of revolutionary socialism; 2.formed cadres of party workers
and militants around this political core; 3.established its "kind of
socialism" as a presence in left politics, with its own physiognomy and name.

"This sums up our tasks too."

As I said, any serious socialist should agree on these tasks but working
out how to get there, is very concrete. And the route to a mass
revolutionary party is not going to be a straight line as the experience of
other successful revolutionary movements, including the Bolsheviks,
indicates. We cannot predict the route but we have to start somewhere.

In a country like Australia today, socialists (revolutionary or not) are a
tiny minority and comprise mainly what might be termed "socialist
intellectuals" relatively isolated from the working class. Further, this
working class is largely depoliticised and generally in retreat in the face
of a continuing capitalist neo-liberal offensive. What politicisation that
has taken place recently has been episodic and mixed in its direction. So,
inevitably, these socialists' tasks are mainly, propagandistic and
educational. But we have some (mostly episodic) opportunities. Cadre
accumulation is slow and difficult.

How should the actually existing socialists in Australia best organise to
do these tasks today?

If we were to apply Draper's formula we should set up a "a non-membership
propaganda/educational center as distinct from a membership group enclosed
in organizational walls has taken the concrete form a publishing enterprise
and its editorial board, with more or less an organizational apparatus
attached to it for the purpose of carrying out the political tasks of the
center."

A handful of socialist intellectuals can set up an e-list, a website and
perhaps put out a magazine and get involved in whatever movement action
they can. And this has been done.

But in actual fact all this is also done on a larger if still modest scale
and I would argue more effectively -- by the existing socialist groups.
Sure these groups have their distortions (arising out of dogmatism,
misplaced mini-cominternism but essentially out of their relative
isolation) but if they can work together and relate better to the
"class-in-motion".

You could say, accurately, that they are ALL little "political centres"
with varying degrees of modest influence. But they have constitutions, and
memberships, and most claim to apply "democratic centralism" and some
version of "Leninism". Now Draper argues that these are all doomed to be
irrelevant micro-sects and to escape that fate socialists must avoid
setting up a "membership organisation".

But then what is to stop the self-selected group of socialist intellectuals
running a political centre, without a membership organisation, from
propagating the most sectarian politics?

Worse still, as Draper has to agree that if you want the political centre
to have any political impact it has to have "more or less an organizational
apparatus attached to it for the purpose of carrying out the political
tasks of the center". So is this apparatus going to make any attempt to be
democratic? And how is this going to be done without rules, membership,
leadership elections, etc, all the things he so blithely mocks? I think
Lenin made this point in more that one of his battle for organisation in
the early years.

Even Draper is forced to concede that "The real problem is whether the
political center must necessarily be a sect." I'd say it has more chance of
becoming a sect if it disdains even the most basic democratic organisation.

I think any attempt to apply Draper's organisational schema would be a step
back even for the embryonic socialist movement in Australia today. The
better course is for all the existing socialist organisations which are
willing to unite together to do so along with socialist individuals in a
multi-tendency socialist formation like the Socialist Alliance and seek to
work together with the minority militant current in the trade union
movement, seek to take initiatives to build whatever progressive mass
movements that can be built in today's conditions.

Peter Boyle



Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org


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