[Marxism] Murray Smith on the Bolsheviks
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 15 07:43:37 MDT 2005
(I plan to respond to this rather long article when I get the chance. For
the life of me, I don't understand why the DSP doesn't give me a head's up
when something like this is written.)
Links 26 July-December 2004
Some remarks on democracy and debate in the Bolshevik Party
by Murray Smith
Murray Smith is a member of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire in France,
and on the International Committee of the Fourth International. Formerly a
member of the Scottish Socialist Party [SSP], he is still actively involved
with Frontline magazine.
I would like to make some comments on Doug Lorimer's article, "The
Bolshevik Party and `Zinovievism': Comments on a Caricature of Leninism",
published in Links 24.
Louis Proyect's affirmation that there is no such thing as Leninism
reflects an idea that is now quite widespread on the left. Like many
mistaken ideas, it has a kernel of truth. This kernel resides in the fact
that the post-Lenin leadership of the Communist International invented the
term "Leninism" in 1924 as what Daniel Bensaïd has called "a religiously
mummified orthodoxy". Previously, as Doug Lorimer recalls, the term
"Leninist" had been used only as a factional epithet in the debates of the
pre-1917 socialist movement. The invention of the concept, according to
Bensaïd, "corresponds to the codification of an organisational model then
associated with the `Bolshevisation' of the Comintern, which allowed the
Kremlin to brutally subjugate the young Communist parties to its own
tutelage".1 This process, often known as "Zinovievism" after its principal
author, was really nothing more nor less than the first stage in the
Stalinisation of the Comintern.
Bensaïd explains that while defending what he considers to be essential in
Lenin's ideas, he prefers to avoid using this particular "ism". That may be
understandable, but I think it is nevertheless useful to speak of Leninism.
Not many political thinkers really deserve an "ism", because that implies
that they developed a coherent body of ideas associated with their name.
Lenin is quite definitely one of them. The "current of political thought"
that we can also call Bolshevism was largely developed by him. If I had to
give a definition of Leninism, it would be something like "the strategy and
tactics necessary for the proletariat to take power in the imperialist
epoch". And since strategy and tactics aren't much use without an
instrument to put them into practice, the question of the party is at the
very heart of Leninism.
The main point I want to take up is the question of democratic debate in
the Bolshevik Party, and in particular the public expression of
differences. I think that it is impossible to look at the history of the
Bolshevik Party and its debates without recognising that, in their
overwhelming majority, these debates were indeed public. In that sense, the
norm, if we want to use that term, was for public debate. A norm does not
mean an absolute principle, and there was no such principle in the
Bolshevik Party. But it definitely was the normal practice to debate
differences publicly, and I think it is worth looking at why, because it
tells us something about Lenin's party and its relationship with the
Before moving on to the main subject, I want to a make a couple of other
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