[Marxism] Building the revolutionary party
loupaulsen at sbcglobal.net
Thu Aug 19 18:13:16 MDT 2004
I wrote, and you quoted:
> Lou Paulsen: "WWP is not going to grow by merger with other groups
whose core values are antithetical to our own. It is going to grow by
recruiting people who share our core values, which, we believe, more
workers will share as the times become more revolutionary."
You then replied:
"Unfortunately, the WWP, the ISO, the SWP (both British and American)
all share this vision that reminds me a lot of atomic science. [...]
What you end up with in this approach is small groups, numbering in
either the hundreds or thousands at best, that appear to the world as a
solid phalanx of militants who agree with each other on an almost
encyclopedic collection of programmatic points. And this is not just
about whether to support Kerry or not, an absolute litmus test for
principled politics in my opinion, but the nature of the 1956 uprising
in Hungary, the character of Chinese society in 2004, the civil wars in
Somehow the message seems to have been garbled somewhere, so let me try
to clarify. I did not, in fact, write: "[WWP] is going to grow by
recruiting people who agree with us on an almost encyclopedic
collection of programmatic points." I wrote, "It is going to grow by
recruiting people who share our core values." I will put the clause
in capital letters: WHO SHARE OUR CORE VALUES. Not "who share an
encyclopedic collection of programmatic points." WHO SHARE OUR CORE
VALUES. Actually this is a term from bourgeois management science, and
I should probably refine it some, but it will do for now.
[Later note: Joaquin thinks that this is just rank idealism on my part
because I am making ideas primary. It is news to me that it is some
kind of grave error to talk about party program, which is really what
Let me anticipate your response (forgive me if I get this wrong, Louis,
but I'm trying to save time): "Paulsen talks about 'core values', but
in fact WWP adheres to the Zinovievist model that all such groups use
without exception, and I know about the Zinovievist model from my years
in the SWP, so in fact I know that they require all candidates to sign
on to an encyclopedic collection of programmatic points, just as they
did in the SWP in the following awful case that I witnessed." Well,
I'm not responsible for what other groups do now or did in the 1970's.
All I can do is sit here and tell you that if some worker comes along
and says to me, "I agree with you on a lot of stuff, but I don't think
that Yugoslavia was still a workers' state in 1995," my response would
be that "some knowledgeable comrades who have studied the matter more
than I have think that it was, but this is not a point that you have to
agree on in order to join WWP."
Now, of course, the many "programmatic points" are not independent of
the "core values" or "core beliefs". In fact, the issues you raise -
evaluations of Hungary in 1956, Yugoslavia in the 1990's, and China
today - are obviously related to each other and are in fact related to
a couple of our core beliefs. One of these would be "Oppose U.S.
imperialist intervention no matter what", where "no matter what"
encompasses subpoints like "even if they are in 'democratic' or
'humanitarian' guise", "even if they are 'legitimized' by the Security
Council", "even if some generally progressive NGOs think it is OK" and
so on. I hope you don't think we are obliged in the name of
non-sectarianism to take into the revolutionary party people who
actually supported Clinton's war on Yugoslavia, e.g.? I presume not.
Another core value or principle of ours, which is sort of implicit in
our method of operation, would be something like this (I am inventing
this phraseology on the fly): "Pull the workers and oppressed to the
left - don't attack them from the right." "The workers" here can be
generalized to unions, non-governmental organizations of the oppressed,
resistance movements, and workers' states. "Pull them to the left"
means to first emphasize that we support them against capital, and to
be the strongest fighters in their defense; and, if and when it is
possible, to move them to the left by persuasion and example. "Don't
attack them from the right" means to avoid all alliances, explicit or
implicit, with capital against the institutions of the workers.
Well, in order to use that principle, you have to be able to make
distinctions between institutions of the workers' and oppressed and
institutions of capital, so another core principle would be "a
dialectical approach to institutions of the workers and oppressed"
which is a subpoint of the major core principle of "a dialectical
approach". That is to say, we are prepared to find contradictions
within these institutions and we are not going to determine that they
are NOT institutions of the workers and oppressed solely on the basis
that they have negative features. Thus, we - to be precise, the
comrades like Dierdre Griswold and Fred Goldstein who have written
about the issue in our press - do not evaluate the Chinese state as
having the same class character as the governments in Washington,
Tokyo, or Seoul, for much the same reason that we do not evaluate the
AFL-CIO as having the same class character as the National Association
of Manufacturers (and we didn't even in the 1950's when it was
systematically expelling communists). This is old stuff to anyone who
has read Trotsky.
But suppose now that a comrade were to come along and say to me, "Lou,
I now believe that the government of the PRC is bourgeois. Do I have
to resign from WWP, or get expelled?" My response would be, "Are you
serious? When was the last time you heard of anyone leaving WWP over
that kind of issue? I disagree with you, of course, but you have the
right to your opinion, and moreover you have the right to try and
convince the rest of us. It could be a useful debate. You will not
convince anybody without clarifying what you mean by saying that the
government of the PRC is bourgeois, and citing evidence, and so on.
What do you think are the practical implications of this?"
Similarly, suppose someone has done some work with us in Chicago and
wants to join WWP, but tells me that he or she believes that the
government of the PRC is bourgeois. My response could take any of a
number of forms depending on how politically experienced this person is
and how much this person really knows about the analysis of China that
we have advanced, but one of these forms would NOT be "well, that's too
bad, you can't join WWP then."
On the other hand, suppose someone comes along and believes the
following SET of propositions:
- The government of the PRC is bourgeois
- Ba'athists in the Iraqi resistance are fascist
- The Nation of Islam is a reactionary formation
- Chavez is a bonapartist enemy of the workers
and so on. You see the pattern? Everything is being evaluated
undialectically and negatively. This is a "left sectarian" pattern.
This person is not a good candidate for membership in WWP at present.
NOT because he or she disagrees with a series of programmatic points
taken independently, but because this person's core principles are
different from ours and we would find ourselves arguing all the time
and not getting any work done.
In fact, such a person would not be interested in joining WWP anyway
and is probably already condemning us because ANSWER had "bourgeois
speakers" on the podium at some demonstration.
And that brings me to the next point, Louis. Reading your argument, it
sounds as if you believe that there is this huge current of potential
revolutionary Marxists who would be interested in joining WWP, but we
don't let them join because they disagree with us about some obscure
point and we tell them they have flunked the entrance exam. This is
not really the case. In fact, now that I think of it, of all the
people who have "come around" WWP in the last 30 years in my vicinity,
first in DC and then in Chicago, people who were coming to our
meetings, or whom we were interested in recruiting, or who were
checking us out, I cannot remember a SINGLE person who was turned away
because of disagreeing with us on some programmatic point in the way
you are talking about.
There have no doubt been some people who decided they hated us because
of some programmatic point. I am sure there are people out there who
say "I would never join WWP because of their position on the Tien An
Men incident (e.g.), no matter what good things they do." If it's
sectarian to draw lines between people and parties over positions like
that, then most of the lines are being drawn, not by us, but by other
It's true that there have not been all THAT many people pounding on the
door to get into WWP at the present time, even among the hundreds of
thousands who have gone to anti-war demonstrations in the last couple
years, but I don't think it's because they disagree with us about
Hungary in 1956, or because (as Scot says) we are 'undemocratic' or
because (as Tony says) we are secretive it's not clear what we stand
for. It's because it IS clear what we stand for. First, we stand for
doing a lot of work. We stand for working in coalitions. We stand for
political education and bringing a lot of issues together. Not
everybody wants to be an organizer. A lot of people just want to be
consumers of demonstrations, as it were. We stand for strong positions
on the national question, the oppression of women, LGBT oppression, and
other forms of oppression, which lead people like Phil Ferguson to call
us antiquated PC relics even though he agrees with us on a great many
Moreover, we stand for socialist revolution. And the percentage of
people in the anti-war demonstrations in the U.S. who ARE for socialist
revolution (at the present time, at their own present state of
development) is not great. You go out and ask people at some
demonstration what they are for, and they will tell you they are for
change, a better world, peace, democracy, freedom, saving the planet,
and a host of other things, but very few, proportionally, have come
around to the idea that in order to get those things you need to have a
socialist revolution. In fact, most don't even consider socialist
revolution to be on the menu of things that it is possible to have. A
large sector of the anti-war movement in the U.S. is just plain
pacifist. Another large sector is basically left-Democratic, and if
they are flirting with Nader it is only because the Democrats didn't
nominate Howard Dean. Another large sector is either explicitly
anarchist or so hostile to all socialist governments, past and present,
that it comes out to be the same thing. They aren't interested in
getting back to the true principles of Lenin either of 1917 or of 1901
(cf. Joaquin), whatever you think they are. They are convinced that
communists in the tradition of Lenin and/or Fidel are all bad enemies
of democracy who will try to restrict their free speech.
This is the kind of filter that is really keeping people out. It's not
some laundry list of points. It's the basic ideas like consistent
anti-imperialism and anti-racism and especially socialist revolution.
It isn't naturally convincing to very many people in this period of
defeat and defensiveness. Is this going to change? You bet it is. It
might be changing already. With regard to which, let me put in a plug
here for the Million Worker March (www.millionworkermarch.org) which is
explicitly reaching out to the 'left' and the antiwar movement. I hope
all the people who are dismissing our antiquated leftism and looking
ahead toward coalescences of the workers can recognize this coalescence
when they see it.
That's all I can manage for now,
member, WWP, Chicago
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