[Marxism] Lenin, party-building strategy, etc.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 4 13:07:14 MST 2004

Lou Paulsen wrote:
> - If we shouldn't read "What is to be Done", then what, of Lenin's,
> should we be reading on the subject of party-building?

We have to write this material ourselves. Party-building literature 
grows out of the concrete experience of a particular time and place.

> - If Lenin was merely trying to do what the German social-democrats had
> done, then (since the US in 2004 is arguably closer to Bismarck's
> Germany than to Czarist Russia) why should we read Lenin at all on the
> subject of party-building?  Shouldn't we be reading the old German
> social-democratic literature for our "recipes"?

Frankly, I find "What is to be Done" more of historical interest than 
anything else.

> - On the other hand, assuming you are right in saying that in 1903
> Lenin thought that the German social-democrats were the model (or even
> would be the model under conditions of legality), do you think this
> opinion was completely unaffected by what Lenin saw as the class
> treason of the German social-democrats in 1914?  Do you think that
> Lenin drew any conclusions from this, and maybe thought that a
> differently organized party might have been better able to withstand
> the war crisis?

Lenin differed from the Mensheviks over political questions, not 
organizational questions. I have no big beefs with the WWP or the ISO on 
political questions, if I were allowed to pick and choose from the two 
menus, but I have a big beef on the organizational question. And, yes, 
they can be separated. The Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks had identical 
party-building methodologies around 1910. This is not why they split.
> - In any case, the political situation in the United States today, in
> 2004, 87 years after the Russian Revolution and 13 years after the
> collapse of the USSR, a society with phones and copiers and the
> Internet, is VERY DIFFERENT from Russia in 1903, and Germany in 1890,
> and Cuba in 1956, and Nicaragua in 1970.  To what extent do you think
> that lessons about models of successful party-building from ANY of
> these places and time can be applied here and now? 

It depends on how you define the word applied. I don't think that we 
should organize guerrilla focos in Vermont. I do believe, however, that 
unity around a broadly defined revolutionary program focused on USA'an 
tasks is essential. If Castro had demanded that people join the July 
26th movement on the basis of Sam Marcy's analysis of the global class 
struggle, he wouldn't have gotten very far. Or Tony Cliff or Ted Grant 
or whoever. We need to figure out a way to make the "Russian questions" 

> - To paraphrase Godard, "the way to criticize a party is to build
> another party."  You have been arguing for years that the rest of us
> are pursuing a bad party-building strategy.  How have you been doing,
> pursuing the correct party-building strategy?  You won't like this
> analogy, but this reminds me a lot of when Chuck0 claimed on Henwood's
> list that all our authoritarian leftism was a lot of crap, whereas he
> and other anarchists could stop the war by organizing another Seattle
> at any time.  I urged him to go ahead and organize another Seattle, by
> all means.  I'm still waiting for it.  

My goals are much more modest. I have no intention of launching a 
revolutionary party, even though Mark Jones was always badgering me to 
start one. I simply want to develop Marxmail as a forum for the kinds of 
discussion we are having here and to involve more and more Marxists. If 
by the time I die, there are 3 or 4 thousand subscribers, I'll die a 
satisfied man.

> Not just NON-productive, but COUNTER-productive!  That's a harsh
> judgment.  It would be a more impressive judgment if some other party
> had achieved MORE "lasting results" in the Black community than the
> Panthers did!  The one observation that I would venture to make - only
> in retrospect! - is that they were apparently unprepared for the
> COINTELPRO strategy, and here I am referring less to murders and
> frameups, which they at least thought about, than to the strategy of
> forged letters and disruption by operatives which ultimately split up
> the BPP, pitting West Coast and East Coast leaders against each other,
> breaking up lines of communication, and sowing division and internal
> hostility.  That was what really brought the BPP down. 

When you are going up against the state, you need to learn defensive 
formulations. The Bolsheviks were masters at using them. They stated 
that the October 1917 revolution was necessary to defend democracy 
against rightist illegality. Malcolm X understood this as well without 
ever having read Lenin or Trotsky. When he was asked if he were for 
violence, he answered that he favored self-defense against Klan terror. 
Unfortunately, the Panthers never thought in those terms.


The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list