[Marxism] Building the revolutionary party

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 19 19:12:08 MDT 2004

Lou Paulsen:
>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.

Of course. You will recruit people who hate capitalism and racism. etc. 
etc. Those are your core values, but they are everybody else's as well. The 
issue is not what sort of people you seek to recruit, but how your 
organization is constituted. It is several hundred people sitting on a 
landfill of party resolutions, books, pamphlets and old newspapers that 
supposedly represent a continuity with Lenin, Marx and Engels. Such an 
ideologically narrow group would not be comfortable for somebody who, for 
example, thought that Milosevic was a venal dictator. Now I happen to think 
that he wasn't, but I find your take on contemporary Chinese society to be 
just as offputting. In any case, my advice is that such questions should 
not be the axis around which revolutionary parties are constructed. That 
was certainly true of the Bolsheviks, who were consumed with the question 
of eradicating Czarism--not coming up with correct positions on how to 
evaluate the Populist Party in the USA, for example. Our tasks revolve 
around presenting a class alternative to the 2-party system. As such, we 
need much broader parameters than those that exist for the WWP. I certainly 
encourage you, however, to keep building the WWP if you think that is a 
sine qua non for socialism.

>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."

I don't think the issue is "some worker who comes along", however. People 
who join revolutionary organizations today are very advanced thinkers, 
whatever their class origins. I doubt that many will be attracted to groups 
that offer pat answers to all the big political questions. The SWP, the 
WWP, the ISO, et al prefer "healthy independents" as we used to put in the 
SWP who can be indoctrinated in new members classes about how the (fill in 
the blanks) has had an unsullied record going back to its founding because 
it took the correct position on (fill in the blank).

>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.

Actually, very few people--including the editors of Against the 
Current--supported that war. If you'll recall, Branka Magas sent them a 
stinging letter because of their failure to go along with her and other 
idiots such as Christopher Hitchens.

>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."

Gosh, I never heard such a thing before.

>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.

Actually, Paul Burkett and Marty Hart-Landsberg specifically cite the law 
of combined and uneven development to explain China today. You, and 
everybody else for that matter, owe it to yourself to read their MR article.

>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?

How generous of your party to not throw out people who are pained by a WWP 
article. On the other hand, that was the case in the dreadful SWP as well.

>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.

It really doesn't work that way. Independent, strong-minded Marxist 
thinkers would be repelled by the SWP, the WWP, the ISO or any other such 
group. They would feel like they are joining a church. I honestly seek to 
build an organization in the real world that is as ideologically 
heterogeneous as Marxmail. That, in fact, was how the Bolshevik party was 
organized. It was a hotbed of clashing opinions on a range of questions, 
including how to topple the Czar. By comparison, today's "Leninist" 
formations are ideological strait jackets.

>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

I can't recall the Bolshevik Party utilizing the class struggle in other 
countries as a litmus test. Do you think that Fidel Castro was writing 
editorials on Eastern Europe in 1957?

>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.

There is actually a wide interest in Marxism today. The Communist Manifesto 
became a best-seller just a few years ago, on the occasion of the 150th 
anniversary. Sooner or later a new organization will tap into this 
interest. My goal in life is not to persuade you to change your mind on 
such questions, but to reach the next generation. It is of course 
educational to draw a contrast between two such sharply differing perspectives.

More information about the Marxism mailing list