[Marxism] Re Solidarity/Against the Current

Joaquín jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Sun Aug 22 05:51:06 MDT 2004

Ilyenkova writes:
>>would someone please explain where this reference to a flippin'
magazine ("Against the Current") comes from other than personal or
sentimental ties. Where, other than on the editorial masthead of the
magazine, does one actually encounter these folks?<<

Well, I encounter a lot of these folks in Solidarity, which sponsors
ATC, although it isn't our "organ," and actually it predates the

Solidarity is a multi-current organization of revolutionary socialists,
which means, yes, you'll find people like David Finkel (not "Frankel")
playing a prominent role in it but you'll also find people like Adam
Levenstein on this list who are quite distant from David's positions on
some subjects, and that kind of diversity is reflected at all levels in
the organization.

At our recent convention we had a panel discussion/debate on Cuba that
went precisely from David (who has a bureaucratic collectivist analysis,
if I understand him right, and is hypercritical of the Cuban "regime")
to me, who is an unabashed Fidelista. 

As an organization we have a common position of opposition to
imperialist attacks against Cuba, but on all the rest of it, the
character and nature of the Cuban regime and so on, as a group we have
no position and I, at least, am against us adopting such a position even
if we could agree on one, which we can't. 

That's because the political tasks of a revolutionary organization in
the U.S. in relation to Cuba overwhelmingly don't have much to do with
the precise characterization of the Cuban state or leadership; and to
the extent that the tasks do relate to those issues (in fields like
developing Marxist theory and political education) they can just as
easily and in my opinion more effectively be carried out by individuals
rather than by the group adopting a common stand.

This last point is important because, for example, some young person who
joins the ISO today does so impressed by their antiwar or other
activism, their support for the Nader-Camejo ticket and their general
socialist outlook, but I doubt many of them think twice about the
group's position that Cuba is "state capitalist" (if I understand their
position correctly). If/when they have to grapple with analyzing Cuba,
they come to it basically having prejudged the question simply by being
part of ISO. The group position weighs heavily against the comrade
taking the question up open-mindedly; to do so automatically puts into
question their loyalty to and participation in a group that's been their
whole political life. 

Also as a simple practical matter, I think you can get a broad swath of
revolutionary socialists to agree about functioning together around a
common, limited, action-oriented plan or program, whereas if everyone
had to agree on things like what your program would be if you were a
revolutionary in Cuba or Brazil or Venezuela instead of the United
States, we'd wind up with the group divided a dozen ways.

And unlike an issue such as how to approach the national question in the
United States and what that means for the immigrant rights' movement,
which people in the U.S. can test directly in practice and then reflect
and correct or refine their theoretical understanding based on that
practice, there is no way for us to test in practice a position like
that the Cuban workers should continue to support the revolution, the
party and Fidel; or that the Cuban workers should place no confidence in
that "regime." All the more reason to leave such questions to our class
comrades in Cuba.

So, yes, those sorts of international questions, as well as historical
and theoretical issues, etc., should be analyzed and discussed, but no,
my view is revolutionary organizations in the U.S. should *not* adopt
positions and resolutions on such issues.

I appreciate what you say about the approach some of these comrades took
in the first Gulf War; I would agree with your criticisms. My impression
is that the group as a whole took a position of opposing sanctions as
part of the war drive but I only joined a couple of years ago, and don't
really know for sure, since it isn't in Solidarity's nature to rehash
old controversies. That's important if you're "the" party precisely
because you have "the" program and therefore essentially a monopoly on
truth and with it a record to defend. 

Solidarity doesn't view itself like that, as I mentioned we don't *have*
positions on lots of questions that other groups do, also we don't have
"discipline" in the sense of people having to argue publicly for
something they disagree with and pretending they really agree with it.

There are around a half-dozen Soli members who are active on this list;
perhaps some of the others will chip in with their take on the issues
you raise.

As to who the actual people are in Soli, it is a tremendously varied
group, including, yes, a layer of academics, some of them fairly
prominent; a layer of very dedicated trade union militants who, no
matter what criticisms one might make of it, have carried out the most
effective union work over a period of decades of any left group in the
U.S.; lots of people active in the Green Party, ten antiwar movement,
community organizing, Palestine solidarity and all sorts of other

You say, "Paulson has a point, though he doesn't drive it hard enough:
Where is the dividing line? How big can the united front umbrella be?
Are we willing to toss Lenin (and Luxemburg on the Mass Party as well)
overboard in favor of some kind of least common denominator coalition of
social democratic mush?"

I actually don't know where the dividing line is, because I think such a
thing can only be determined in practice, and it hasn't been tested. It
is an idealist approach to think there is such a thing as a bright and
shining line that divides Bolshevism from Menshevism, that by the year
1912 or 1914 Menshevism had revealed its reformist essence and from that
day forward this "dividing line" has to be enforced.

The real political currents that struggled within the RSDLP and the
broader workers movement in Russia in the early part of the last century
were not shadows on Plato's cave of unvarying essences that gradually
revealed their real character through the outline they cast by the
flickering light of the class struggle. Bolshevism and Menshevism
evolved and changed over time; it isn't that Lenin didn't *understand*
that a split was necessary in 1905, it is that a definitive split into
separate, irreconcilable parties was not necessary, principled or
justifiable then. And you can see some of the danger in setting up these
rival formations in some of the sectarian impulses the Bolsheviks had
towards those first Soviets. Because a lot of people think different
groups exist because they have different positions, whereas a much more
direct, materialist explanation would be that there have different
positions *because* they are different groups, and the difference in
positions may be no more than seeing different sides of a contradictory

In the case of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, in the real world, on the
ground, in the local party units, the definitive split which in
principle had taken place around 1912 was not in fact completely
consummated until mid-1917. 

One place for sure we won't find the dividing line FOR US is on whether
you agree with the Leninist Theory of Organization (because, having read
a fair amount of Lenin, I am convinced he was enough of a Marxist so as
to not attempt an abomination like coming up with a "theory" of
organization abstracted from time, place circumstances and political
tasks) nor whether you agree with Luxembourg on the Mass Party (because,
having been a conscious Marxist for more than three decades, I've
actually succeeded in never even considering that question, and I
suspect I'm not the only one). 

So, yes, I would say we should definitely throw out adherence to "Lenin"
and "Luxembourg" as being what separates reformists from revolutionaries
in the United States at the dawn of the 21st Century.

The only way to see whether division is actually *necessary* is to try
to build a *united* party. That is the Marxist position and approach,
the one Marx, Engels and Lenin actually applied to their political work.

The approach common on the U.S. Left is to reject unity on the basis of
*ideas.* This or that group doesn't have the right *ideas*; you have to
agree with what we think about Yugoslavia or Cuba or Tien an Men or
Brazil or all sorts of other things. And many other, more practical
"differences" simply flow from the different histories, styles and
milieus of the different groups, exacerbated by this absolutely *insane*
concept that *everyone* in a given group *must* be saying and doing
*exactly* the same thing in a given area of work.

Nicaragua has a rich lesson there, because the FSLN  split into
essentially three rival organizations in the mid-1970's. There were the
"proletarians" who wanted to focus on work in the cities; the "prolonged
people's war" folks that stuck with a rural guerrilla strategy, and the
"terceristas" (literally, third-ists) who wanted much more tactical
flexibility in creating alliances and carrying out political campaigns.
When the opportunity came to actually *lead* an uprising against Somoza
they reunited to take advantage of it, and found that the work each one
had been doing independently actually complimented more than undercut
what the others had done, and each made important contributions to the

"Leninist" groups for decades have been creating dichotomies of choices
like, should we work on the campuses or in the factories or in
communities of oppressed nationalities or in radicalized milieus. You
had to decided which ONE would give the greatest benefits (more
recruitment, "proletarianizing" the party; "rooting" it among the most
oppressed and so on) and then EVERYONE in the group had to change. We
still do it today: ANSWER versus UfPJ versus NION versus CAN versus
USLAW versus MFSO. 

But politics isn't a multiple choice standardized test, and there may be
more than one right answer. And if that is true, then there has to be a
different method for approaching these issues, one which allows
divergent tacks to be adopted by fractions or working groups, local
organizations and even individual comrades. 

This isn't easy to accomplish: there is a strong tendency, I think it is
fair to say at least from Solidarity's actual experience, is for the
group to become a network of activists rather than a coherent activist
organization, but the alternative isn't to go back to "democratic
centralism" as it has been traditionally practiced on the left.


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