[Marxism] Re Solidarity/Against the Current and democratic centralism

Louis Proyect 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 
>experience, a
>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 
>seem to
>moderate the absoluteness of their readines to consign democratic 
>centralism to
>history's dustbin.

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 
>offered by
>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 

More information about the Marxism mailing list