[Marxism] Reclaim Lenin from "Leninists" and "Leninism"
ozleft at optushome.com.au
Thu May 6 08:38:21 MDT 2004
Reclaim Lenin from "Leninists" and "Leninism". Part II.
A Critique of Doug Lorimer's article, The Bolshevik Party and
"Zinovievism": Comments on a Caricature of Leninism, in Links (No. 24,
pp. 96-112), and a few suggestions as to what an organisation drawing
the useful lessons of Lenin's activity, experience and writings, might
look like in modern conditions. How we might possibly get there from the
present situation of a proliferation of Marxist sects. Part II of four
By Bob Gould
Including some rare cartoons from the early Bolshevik movement and
extracts from works of Bertram D. Wolfe, David Lane and Ernest Mandel.
A summary of the problems with Lorimer's Zinovievist approach to the
history of Leninism
Lorimer's approach is completely textual. He takes quotes from Lenin at
different points in Bolshevik history and strings them together to
provide some kind of "proof" of a thesis that the essence of an
abstraction he calls "Leninism" lies in a thoroughly authoritarian
centralist type of party organisation functioning primarily from the
leadership downward, and operating according to a type of cabinet
solidarity within this leadership. All other significant aspects of
Lenin's political method and practice are ignored in this account.
Lorimer ignores the actual history of Lenin's political leadership and
practice and the kind of dynamic revolutionary organisation that Lenin
refounded a number of times, the real essence of which was considerably
more libertarian than Lorimer's text-based version.
Lorimer's account is spectacularly ahistorical. It ignores the
demonstrated problem that emerged with the Stalinisation of the Russian
Revolution: that over-centralisation, which seemed necessary to Lenin
and Trotsky at the time of the ban on factions in the Communist
movement, turned out to be a major factor in creating the conditions for
the bureaucratisation of the revolution in the period of ebb. A failure
to address these questions is an enormous defect in any overview of what
useful lessons we might draw from Leninist practice for the future.
Mandel's views, which I've quoted above, are relevant here. This is an
area of political analysis and inquiry that is extremely pressing in any
serious refounding of the revolutionary socialist movement. History
shows that over-centralisation of the revolutionary socialist movement
leads in the direction of bureaucratisation and Stalinisation of
revolutionary socialist parties in power.
Lorimer's formula, derived from his flat, ahistorical, textual reading
of Lenin, has the effect in small socialist groups, in relatively
non-revolutionary situations, of transforming them rapidly into sects
similar in structure and ethos to small religious groups. In particular,
the emphasis on overly rigid internal structures and of leadership
cabinet solidarity has the effect of winnowing out more normal
revolutionary elements and only retaining Committee People, who are
totally focussed on the interests of their group as a propaganda
organisation, as a thing in itself. This, in practice, removes the
organisation from the problems of the class struggle and the real issues
in the society in which they are operating. Lorimer's formulaic Big-L
"Leninism" is one of the main things that contributes to the
transformation of small Marxist groups into middle-class sects.
A personal note about considering and approaching Lenin's political legacy
As a young person in the 1950s, I fell in love with the political idea
of Lenin and his activity. Later, breaking from Stalinism, I did what
many do in breaking from Stalinism: I used Lenin texts to demystify the
Stalinist misuse of Lenin. On the basis of my own reading of Lenin's
writings, as pointed to by others who I respected, this was a useful
approach as far as it went, and it was pretty well all that many of us
had available at the time.
In the 1970s, I was a rather taken with Gerry Healy's turn to Lenin's
Philosophical Notebooks. Despite Healy's exaggerated overstatement of
Lenin's approach to philosophy, I still regard the Philosophical
Notebooks as of considerable value, methodologically.
At a number of points in my life, usually at moments of political
crisis, I've gone back to considering Lenin's legacy, which is always a
useful thing to do, and this current inquiry, which is my most
systematic overview so far of Lenin's work and legacy, is informed by a
serious attempt to consider the new material now available to us.
I insist that that is the best way to approach the question usefully.
The world has moved beyond any utility for Lorimer's archaic quoting of
Lenin texts out of context. This approach is a pretty stupid way of
approaching Lenin politically, now that we have so much useful material
to work on.
For many years, I have conducted my bookselling business opposite Moore
College, the powerhouse of Evangelical Christianity in Australia, and
perhaps in the world, and I have become acquainted with the Evangelical
Christian approach to something they call the personality of Jesus
Christ, and the texts of the Bible, which they assert is the literally
inspired world of God. They insist that everyone confront their notion
of Jesus Christ on the basis of a curious book called the New Testament,
which is a mixture of some scraps of historical fact, myth and allegory,
which they insist on calling the literal truth about Jesus Christ.
When one considers cooly the history of Christianity, it is clear that
Jesus Christ is a partly mythological figure, loosely based on the life
of a political, religious and social agitator who was assassinated by
the Roman state some time in the first century. Most Marxists and most
materialists can see this easily, in relation to the history of
Christianity, its origins and the personality of Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, the Stalinists, Zinovieviest and Lorimerist schools of
Leninology approach Lenin's writings and the history of the Bolsheviks
in a very similar way to the way literalist Bible Christians approach
the history of Christianity, the Bible and the personality of the Christ
This is a bizarre way to approach Lenin, cooly considered. Lenin is not
a partly mythological figure like Jesus Christ. We now know more about
him, and more about the history of the RSDP, the Bolsheviks and the
Mensheviks, than we know about almost any other recent historical
figures, or any historical figures, for that matter. A text-based,
Evangelical-Christian-like, narrative about Leninism, such as Lorimer's,
is an absurdity in the 21st century, an affront to the method of
Marxism, and a great dishonour to the real value of the study of Lenin
and his ideas and practice for Marxists.
Part I: http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Lenin1.html
Parts III and IV will appear soon. They analyse the current practice of
far left organisations, particularly the Australian DSP, ISO, Socialist
Alternative and the Socialist Alliance in the light of Lorimer's
narrative about Leninism and my response.
More information about the Marxism