Shane Hopkinson post of Peter Boyle reformatted

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Sep 27 07:37:15 MDT 2003

Peter Boyle wrote:
>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.

I think it would be a mistake to assume that Draper's article was a
blueprint for how to organize revolutionary organizations. I don't think,
for example, it would be that useful for people operating under a fascist
dictatorship. I suppose that those of us who were trained in the
one-size-fits-all methodology of "Marxism-Leninism" are tempted to project
this into Draper's very useful article. For those of us trying to transcend
a sectarian framework in countries like the USA, Great Britain or
Australia, however, the article contains very useful insights such as the

"There is a fundamental fallacy in the notion that the road of
miniaturization (aping a mass party in miniature) is the road to a mass
revolutionary party. Science proves that the scale on which a living
organism exists cannot be arbitrarily changed: human beings cannot exist
either on the scale of the Lilliputians or of the Brobdingagians; their
life mechanisms could not function on either scale. Ants can life 200 times
their own weight, but a six foot ant could not lift 20 tons even if it
could exist in some monstrous fashion. In organizational life too, this is
true: If you try to miniaturize a mass party, you do not get a mass party
in miniature, but only a monster."

>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.

Unfortunately after the Bolshevik Party took state power, there *was* a
tremendous impetus toward turning it into a kind of cookie-cutter for
revolutionaries in other countries. Lenin was aware of this problem but
died before he had a chance to rectify it. Instead the tendency was
deepened by Zinoviev whose ideas about party-building were embraced eagerly
by James P. Cannon in 1924 and never considered critically by those,
including the DSP, who use his various writings as guides.

>"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."

It would be best to retire any writings that include infelicitous phrases
like "iron discipline" even if they were written by St. Lenin himself. It
only encourages misbehavior.

>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).

Interesting admission. Lenin did state that "What is to be Done" was
obsolete not five years after it was written. But we always treated
Cannon's writings as wisdom for the ages, as he himself intended.

>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

Liebman was hostile to Bolshevism, having described Lenin's intention as
creating an "elitist party". Meanwhile Paul LeBlanc has never really
understood what went wrong in the Trotskyist movement, explaining it in
terms of a combination of abnormal psychology and a decline in proletarian
culture in terms of E.P. Thompson et al. These are both very well-meaning
individuals but dubious experts on party-building, I'm afraid. I would
still recommend Paul's book on Lenin, but if you had to read only one
thing, it would be Neil Harding's 2 volume book. As Harding was less
interested than Paul in writing books that would vindicate some kind of
organizational panacea, they have much more value.

>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?

You are asking the wrong question. The real question is why you would
continue to embrace an organizational model that has led to sectarian
impasses everywhere it was tried, sooner or later. I think the *spirit* of
Draper's writings are more important than worrying about how to carry them
out as if they were a recipe. More specifically, I'd think very hard about
your own declaration on this email list of the DSP's task to foster
"revolutionary factionalism/interventionism in the broader movements".
Merciful heavens!!!

>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.

The problem with "Marxist-Leninist" organizations is not that they lack
rules, leadership elections, etc. all designed to ensure democracy. It is
rather that their political culture is so bent on creating *homogeneity*
that dissident voices are intimidated from expressing themselves. Anybody
who has tried to argue a position that is 180 degrees at odds with the
leadership's knows how daunting it is to get up at during preconvention
discussion and argue their points. You immediately find yourself the target
of a whispering campaign as "petite-bourgeois".

>I think any attempt to apply Draper's organisational schema would be a
>step back even for the embryonic socialist movement in Australia today.

No problem. Maybe you can simply stop thinking in terms of revolutionary
factionalism instead. That would be a baby step in the right direction.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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