[Marxism] Re Solidarity/Against the Current and democratic centralism
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 24 07:16:45 MDT 2004
>I'm referencing this point because it's emblematic of the rationale for the
>anti-democratic centralist positions expressed by list members. Almost
>invariably, these party veterans have developed through personal
>revulsion to "democratic centralism" and see it as an organizational form
>stultifies and truncates the development of those drawn to revolutionary
>politics. Though some take care to point out that the party of Lenin and
>Trotsky never functioned in the lock-step way the sects do, this doesn't
>moderate the absoluteness of their readines to consign democratic
I, for one, am for democratic centralism, a vanguard party and everything
else that is associated with the Bolshevik Party. The real question,
however, is how to get there. We are dealing with *means*, not the *end*
itself. We all have the same goal.
What doesn't seem to work is constructing a miniature Bolshevik Party in
the hopes that it can gather "raw material" in the form of recruits in the
hopes that down the road an enormous radicalization can attract thousands
if not millions of workers to its banner.
Back in the mid 1970s, Bruce Levine, a member of a small state socialist
group that had recently been swallowed whole by the SWP, gave a lecture at
our national gathering on Leninism. I remember him explaining the concept
of a cadre. It was drawn from the military. A cadre was an officer. We were
like officers, he told the assembled throng (sigh, those were the days).
The only way that this outfit could have grown into an army is with a
draft, unfortunately. Volunteer enlistments were never on the agenda to the
degree fantasized by party leaders. That says nothing about recruitment to
the repellent sect that calls itself the SWP today.
Underpinning this schema is the notion that we were armed with *superior
ideas*. Yes, we had been providing leadership to the antiwar movement and
the woman's movement (much less so for the trade union and oppressed
nationalities movements), but looked at objectively it was far more modest
than one would expect from a group preordained to be the vanguard party of
the American revolution.
These ideas were a combination of off-the-shelf Trotskyism that every other
Trotskyist group adhered to, plus our own corpus of writings by party
leaders. Joining the SWP meant being indoctrinated in these ideas. To put
it bluntly, any party constituted on such an *ideological* basis would
needlessly cut itself off from the *overwhelming majority* of
self-confident and largely self-taught activists who would bristle at the
idea of sacrificing their own intellectual independence.
We know from history that the Russian social democracy had a totally
different kind of birth. In the early 1900s, Lenin and the Marxist wing of
the workers movement sought to *unite* everybody who was for socialism into
a nationwide party that was connected through a newspaper. That meant that
the leadership was composed at the outset by individuals with their own
history in the mass movement and their own particular approach to various
questions, including the character of the coming revolution. People such as
Trotsky, Preobrezhensky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Kollontai et al were
not recruited as new members and funnelled through new members classes
where they would learn the glorious traditions of the Russian social
democracy, because the party was spanking new. I maintain that something
like this will mark the inception of a truly revolutionary party in the
USA, as it did in Cuba as well.
>To the extent of my familiarity with these campaigns they've met with success
>because they brought together the organizing skills and concentrated force of
>disciplined Trotskyist tendencies, and the concrete struggles of the working
>masses (i.e. the anti-bin tax campaign of Socialist Alternative in Ireland).
I agree that Socialist Alliance formations are a first step in mitigating
sectarian tendencies on the left, but unless they evolve into a broader
formation like the Scottish SP, they will not be fully effective.
>Granted, we live in the US and American Exceptionalism with all its barriers
>to even democratic, let alone class politics, blunts the force of comparisons
>with Europe. But not since the 20s has the US working class faced the kind of
>conditions hammering it today. We'll be that much further behind if those
>conscious Marxists among us settle for the kind of amorphous pragmatism
>the likes of Solidarity, as I hear it articulated so clearly by JoaquMn.
The best thing that Solidarity could do, in my opinion, is serve as a
catalyst for a more advanced refoundation of the left, as Jose puts it.
Unfortunately, I find little in their magazine ATC to inspire me along
those lines. If Solidarity could have cemented a working relationship with
the ISO and if ISO could drop some of its "Leninist" baggage (including
publishing articles in their newspaper reflecting minority viewpoints that
I know exist, trust me), it would be a shot in the arm for the left. Let's
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