[Marxism] The Teixeira thesis

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at rogers.com
Sat Mar 6 21:35:21 MST 2004

Marvin Gandall: I don't recall making reference to Kautsky, although I
do remember saying I would like to find time to reread the Menshevik
critique of the Bolsheviks as "adventurist" in light of the subsequent
short-lived course of Soviet history. I'd add that given the world
situation at that time I don't think it was unreasonable of the
Bolsheviks to have seized power in anticipation it would spark
revolutions in the West. Without the benefit of hindsight available to
us now, I expect and hope I would have been with them.

Louis Proyect: Without the benefit of hindsight? What are you trying to
say? That if you were in Russia in 1917 and could have foreseen how
things would have turned out, you would have opposed the seizure of
power? I hate to even ask.

My reply:

You needn't "hate to even ask", as if the answer is so self-evident; you
obviously believe revolutionaries plunge headlong into every situation,
heedless of the consequences - it would be consistent with your
character and that of many other literary intellectuals in politics -
but the seizure of power was a burning practical question rather than a
romantic affair for the Bolsheviks as well as the Mensheviks. As you
know, it was even publicly (!) and forcefully opposed by leading members
of the party like Zinoviev and Kamenev, and they had no way at all of
foreseeing the outcome. So why are you so certain that if the Bolshevik
central committee were actually presented with hard evidence that the
revolution would not spread to the West but would instead "degenerate"
into Stalinism and finally collapse within a few generations, it would
still have voted to unilaterally seize power in the name of the Soviets?

There's not the slightest doubt in my mind - because the Bolsheviks were
not fools - that presented with such evidence, the entire leadership,
Lenin and Trotsky included, would have reverted to Lenin's more cautious
perspective of a "democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants",
which implied an extended period of capitalist development and
cooperation, even in a subordinate role, with the rural-based SR's, the
Mensheviks, and the other peoples' parties. Trotsky's formulation of
"permanent revolution", which Lenin adopted in April, 1917, was entirely
predicated on the Soviet revolution triggering a Europe-wide one which
would overcome the problem of Russian isolation and backwardness -
exactly that which the Mensheviks were warning about, prescient as it
turned out. The Bolsheviks shared these fears, but proceeded to seize
power anyway on the mistaken understanding the revolution would spread.
So, yes, you can ask whether I would have hesitated on the basis of what
we now know.
Marvin: But I don't mind removing the quote marks around "reformist" if
you prefer that I do. I didn't intend it as a "scare quote". I think I
explained previously that I don't describe myself as a "social democrat"
or "reformist" because a) I don't believe as a matter of principle that
there can be a a peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism - which I
understand to mean the political and economic expropriation of the large
property holders, and b) I believe I would move, with many others,
towards revolutionary solutions if capitalism broke down and was no
longer capable of delivering modest job and income growth and tolerable
living standards for most working people.

Louis: The real dividing line between reformists and revolutionaries is
not over "a peaceful road to socialism" but how to orient to the
Democratic Party in the here and now. In tomorrow's NY Times Magazine,
there's an attack on the Nader campaign by Sean Wilentz of Dissent
Magazine and The New Republic (now there's a combination for you.) The
fundamental CLASS question in the USA is the Democratic Party. For the
past half-century at least, every single social movement and the trade
union movement have been set back by orienting to the Democratic Party.
I am now reading Jeff St. Clair's "Been Brown So Long to Me that it
Looked Like Green to Me" for an upcoming issue of Swans. The
collaboration between inside-the-beltway environmental organization,
timber and mining companies and the Clinton administration is enough to
make you retch. These people are not just enemies of the working class.
They are enemies of every living and breathing thing, including Bison
and wolves.

My reply:

Wading through your hyperbole, we agree the question is how to orient to
the Democratic party. It has nothing to do with "revolutionaries" (the
quote marks in this case are intentional) and reformists, as you like to
pretend. The dividing line is whether you think organized workers and
social movement activists are more likely to be  receptive to your views
if you participate in the organizations where they are to be found in
any significant number  - the trade unions in the economic arena, the
Democratic party in the political - or whether they are more likely to
respond to you, as I noted, "standing outside their plant gates and
convention halls selling your broadsheet along with competing handfuls
of other revolutionary- and Green-minded intellectuals and students."

Take, for example, the Dean campaign which challenged the main
leadership candidates about their position on the war in Iraq, certainly
the most significant political development this year in relation to what
we're discussing, and one which ought to have been encouraged and
assisted. Instead, you bemoaned that campaign, and insisted that the
antiwar forces which carried the fight inside the party were, in effect,
delusional and should have left their caucuses and meeting halls to join
you outside in canvassing for the Green Party. In fact, you presented
yourself - to the extent anyone could see you - as bitterly hostile to
what union and social movement activists regard, like it or not, as
their party and who regard your assaults as directed at them as party
members. How this is in any way a sensible orientation to the Democratic
party is beyond me.

Marvin: But isn't this true of yourself and everyone else on the list,
as well? How can it be otherwise in the absence of a pre-revolutionary
situation, when all of our practical activity is necessarily
"reformist" - whether it be in the unions or in the international
solidarity, environmental, and other movements, or through participation
in pro-capitalist parties like the Democrats or, in your case, the

Louis: You are confusing "revolutionary" with "insurrectionary". I
thought that you would have known the difference. Apparently not.

My reply:

I'm not aware of the Bolsheviks or other revolutionaries describing
themselves as as "insurrectionaries", but you are probably better
acquainted with the literature, so perhaps it has been used somewhere. I
understand your point to be that so long as "revolutionaries" want to
describe themselves as such even though they are not involved in
revolutionary politics, it is ok to do so. I already expressed the view
that "I respect everyone's right to choose an identify which is pleasing
to themselves".

Marvin: You (Louis) write "if down the road a revolutionary formation
based on a new awareness comes into being, I'd probably join it. But
right now I couldn't find the time...if millions of working people were
gravitating toward independent political action while engaging in
militant strikes and mass actions, I'd not be pushing for support of the
Green Party."

I understand this - it reflects my own position - but unfortunately I
don't think you've grasped the corollary that if and when this happens,
you'd be much better positioned in the DP where the
politically-conscious trade unionists would begin their journey, and
where you presumably would have had a prior opportunity to earn their

Louis: The politically-conscious trade unionists would be exactly the
same as they were in the 1930s, fighting tooth and nail with the
National Guard, scabs and other enemies deployed by the Republican and
Democratic Parties. This time around, I would hope that the CPUSA has so
little difference that it won't persuade workers to retain loyalties to
the "lesser evil". Of course, we revolutionaries will have a fight on
our hand with those who preach class-collaboration using Marxist jargon.

My reply:

Brave words spoken with a dramatic flourish, as usual. In fact, the 30's
were a text book case of how the workers' radicalization expressed
itself through the Democratic party. It was not the CPUSA which was
responsible for the radicalization not proceeding further; it was the
economic recovery, prompted by unprecedented Keynsian-like spending on
public works programs and then war, as well as the acceptance of
collective bargaining which revived purchasing power. You're still a
prisoner, I'm afraid, of the (idealist) Trotskyist notion of a "crisis
of leadership".
Marvin: You instead view "the art of politics" as standing outside their
plant gates and convention halls selling your broadsheet... (snip)

Louis: Selling my broadsheet? I think you are thinking of the Spartacist
League rather than the Green Party... (snip)

Marvin: The parallel to the Spartacist League, I can see, causes you
some discomfort, as it ought to. The fact that you want to peddle Green
Party leaflets outside plant gates and convention halls instead of
anti-Pabloite tracts does not negate that you share a common mode of
intervention. There is a sociological explanation why intellectuals and
students favour this kind of arms-length propaganda activity rather than
more direct political engagement in workers-based organizations, and if
you press me about it, I'll be glad to elaborate.
Marvin: Apart from your current infatuation with the Greens, the only
other difference I can see between us is that, to your way of thinking,
you are also engaged in the revolutionary activity of building a
"Bolshevik party". You are wrong to suggest I "hadn't figured out" that
this is what you are deep down "pushing for", although I have no
knowledge of what it is you are actually involved in away from marxmail
and the Internet.

Louis: My political involvement is here and now on this mailing list. I
have also been invited to submit a book proposal to a British publisher
and will probably present something on "Lenin in Context". If I can
write that and keep this mailing list on an even keel, that's about as
much as I can handle. I have a full-time job and will be forced to begin
working 6 days a week next week. That's a plenty.

My reply:

I don't begrudge you marxmail. It is a useful resource which aids my
understanding. I also know you have a full-time job which for a long
time I thought was that of a Maytag repairman, given the prodigious
amount of time you spend posting to this and other chat groups, and
attending to your writing, of which the cultural stuff is, IMO, quite
outstanding. I simply find it remarkable that you can, with a straight
face, describe this as "revolutionary" activity.
Marvin: I'd be reluctant to describe myself as a "Bolshevik" in any
event, a term I associate with those operating in much more intense and
dangerous political environments, though of course I respect everyone's
right to choose an identity which is pleasing to themselves.

Louis: Again with the "dangerous" stuff. We are not asking you to make
molotov cocktails. Only to stop preaching on behalf of scum like
Clinton, Kerry and Gore.

My reply:

In light of what you described above as your "revolutionary" activity, I
can see why you would also object to my suggestion that it's accompanied
by exposure to "more intense and dangerous political environments", but
it's not important; I only mentioned that I would feel uncomfortable
describing my own activity, which somewhat mirrors your own, in this
way. Your agitated description of Clinton, Kerry, and Gore as "scum" I
find more objectionable in the sense it is evidence of the difficulty
you have exercising self-restraint in debate, and is not the kind of
characterization I associate with politically serious people. As for my
"preaching on their behalf", if you can point to evidence of this, I'd
be glad to take up your charge.

Marv Gandall

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