[Marxism] On "Leninism" was Re: Teixeira thesis

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sun Mar 7 09:11:08 MST 2004

Marvin Gandall wrote:
> 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?

_A Longish Preface_: One of our less fortunate inheritances (from both
Stalin & Trotsky) is "Leninism" and/or "Marxism/Leninism." I'm
approaching this from the perspective of the Chinese distinction between
"Theory" and "Thought," as manifested in the phrase,
"Marxism-Leninism-Mao Thought." In this perspective, the explanatory
power of Marxism (I come to the -Leninism later) extends over the whole
epoch of capitalism and the socialist revolution, and is in that
(historical) sense _universal_. And, because of its universal validity
it remains the guiding framework within which revolutionary thought
develops. Thus Che's remark, "It's not my fault that reality is
marxist," implies that to study _Capital_ is to study capital -- capital
in the 21st and the 16th as well as the in 19th century. Mao thought, in
contrast, arose from and to an important extent was tied to the
conditions of the Chinese Revolution. One could not legitimately
abstract from it a set of principles directly applicable to all
revolutionary movements. The theory of the three worlds was a violation
of this earlier perspective, in that it attempted to analyze the global
struggle against imperialism with the same principles -- e.g., the
United Front as developed in China in the 1930s -- as those of the
Chinese Revolution. This was a disaster, and its acceptance by "Maoist"
sects in the u.s. (and elsewhere) seriously distorted the politics of
those sects. One can learn, I think, a great deal from the Chinese
Revolution and from studying the works of Mao, but _only_ if one remains
aware of the extent to which Mao's thought is just that, _thought_ in
the Chinese sense and not a general theory of revolution.

Now what I want to suggest is that, _on the whole_, it would be better
to think of "Lenin-Thought" rather than "Leninism" (or
"Marxism-Leninism"). But I do believe that at least one element in
Lenin's thought is universally applicable, though it is a principle
implicit in his whole life's work, never explicitly formulated by him.
So we have to find our own wording for it. My version goes something
like this: If a movement can seize power, it _must_, regardless of how
grim the future may look. Perhaps it could be even more strongly worded:
If it appears that there is a fighting chance of seizing power, a
workers' movement must attempt to do so. And I think this is a universal
principle, abstractable from Lenin's practice and applicable to an
indefinite range of other contexts, even rather trivial contexts. One
organizes a forum (say a teach-in on the invasion of Iraq). No one shows
up. O.K. One lost. If one loses, one loses, and life goes on. But
suppose triple the number expected show up, overflowing the auditorium.
And they are excited. The forum speakers are excellent speakers, and the
audience responds with "What shall we do?" And we have nothing to tell
them but, well, the next meeting of our group is three weeks from now.
Why don't you come to that.

It is _terrible_ -- it is absolutely unacceptable -- to win and not be
prepared to do something with that victory. I think the principle can be
almost endlessly varied to apply to situations both small and large. And
I think Lenin's works take on added resonance if one watches as it were
for the pressure of this principle on Lenin's own thought and practice.
There was a joke in the British CP in the '30s: One comrade says, the
Labour Party won't carry on the class struggle. The second comrade
replies, That isn't true. Labour will carry on and carry on and carry on
and carry on the class struggle: it just won't win it. That's good
Leninism, not only Lenin-thought, tied directly to a particular context.
But beyond that, I think it in error to attempt to extract a general
theory from Lenin's works -- in part because in looking for the abstract
theory one is apt to miss the tremendous example Lenin's determination
and focus on actuality offers us.

But back to the present context of Marvin's statement above. Zinoviev
and Kamenev were terribly wrong, and Lenin was right, in principle and
not just in his evaluation of the immediate situation. The Bolsheviks
_had_ to take power or betray every thing they stood for. And even had
they known for sure (which they could not) that the revolution in
western europe would fail, that the Soviet Union would end up isolated
in a capitalist world dedicated to its destruction, the decision to
seize power would have been not just correct but the _only_ decision
that they could have made without betraying the workers' cause

And so I would disagree also with Marvin's argument that "the seizure of
power was [ONLY] a burning practical question rather than a romantic
affair for the Bolsheviks as well as the Mensheviks." "Romantic affair"
is not the proper antithesis to "practical question," and offering it as
such clouds the discussion. The Weatherman decision to launch "armed
struggle" in 1969 was what a "romantic affair" looks like. And it is
this occasion rather than the squabbles during and after the Second
Congress which should guide our perspective on the
"Bolshhevik/Menshevik" split. The seizure of power was a burning
practical question, but it was a practical question that (at least for
Lenin) could be resolved in principle and not just by an immediate
practical judgment.


This thread has been primarily concerned with the 'practical question'
of whether to support the DP in the November election. I think it should
remain a practical question and not a question of principle. The really
outrageous feature of John Lacny's letter to CounterPunch was his
raising a practical issue to a level of a principle on the basis of
which Nader supporters became "traitors." I think it would be equally
wrong for those of us who will not support the DP to make it a matter of
principle. One ABB on another list began a post by pompously declaiming,
"Call me an opportunist, but. . . ." I chose not to take up the
challenge, because it seems to me that our primary concern should be
with preparations for _after_ the election when, regardless of which
party wins, we will still be faced with the real work of building a
coalition to protest the U.S. war against the world. It will be best if
we come out of this quadrennial flight from politics without too many
cracks appearing in that coalition. Lacny is probably only temporarily a
pompous fool, and we will need to work with him and others like him in

On the "practical question" itself, Yoshie on this and other lists has
been posting highly interesting information which strongly suggests that
Kerry is not even a believable "lesser evil," and I tend to agree, but
it is still only a practical question of judgment of the immediate
situation, and I think comrades need not get too hot under the collar
about it. There can be no coalition with the DP itself; there can and
must be a coalition including those who, for this election, are
supporting the DP.


More information about the Marxism mailing list