[Marxism] Re: A sectarian approach
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Nov 13 18:24:31 MST 2005
The next time you run into one of our latter-day "Marxist-Leninists" who
trace their lineage to the historic split between the Bolsheviks and the
Mensheviks in the Russian Social Democracy, give them a little quiz. Ask
them to identify the authors of the following 2 opposing motions around
which the historical split took place. One is Lenin, leader of the
Bolsheviks, the other is Martov, the Menshevik leader.
1. A party member is one "who recognizes the Party's programme and
it by material means and by personal participation in one of the Party's
2. A party member is one "who recognizes the Party's programme and
it by material means and by regular personal assistance under the
of one of the party's organizations."
Well, I recognized the difference, and it is not an insignificant one to
me, although it is also ultimately a tactical issue. Lenin proposed the
first motion. Martov proposed the second one. Of course, I have studied
this issue for years, as has Louis, and have currently rather
de-developed and incomplete views of my own.
The difference is the issue of activity in a party organization as
distinct from accepting the leadership of the party in some area or
other. It is the question of whether the party should include
sympathizers, friends, people who support the party on one issue or area
or another, or whether the members should be those who take
responsibility for party decisions : ultimately not only for taking
orders from the party, but for making the decisions. Lenin's position
was that in the underground conditions that membership had to mean
taking responsibility for the functioning of a party committee as an
The difference between a cadre party in this basic sense and the party
favored by Martov or others where any prosocialist worker or
intellectual could proclaim themselves a party member.
Of course, the party structure proposed by Lenin -- as well as SOME
exaggerations about how class consciousness develops in the working
class -- had flaws from the start and became rapidly outmoded.
The interesting thing is that Louis promotes a myth himself, and fails
my favorite test question on this subject: on what issue did the split
ANSWER: It did not occur over the issue Louis cites. Lenin lost the
vote on that, and rolled merrily on. In fact, Lenin did not split from
the RSDLP over this or any other question until 1912, when the array of
differences had become pretty broad.
The answer is that the split took place over the composition of the
editorial board of the Iskra newspaper. Lenin proposed a new, smaller
editorial board that did not include, if I recall correctly, Martov.
Martov and his supporters lost this vote and walked out. Plekhanov
supported Lenin on this point, but split later.
The split was not carried out by Lenin when he lost the vote on the
membership issue, but by what became the Mensheviks when they disagreed
with the composition of the editorial board. They ended up blocking
with the "economists" Lenin soundly and correctly thrashes in What Is to
Be Done, and with the Jewish Bund, to become de facto the majority.
I don't favor "What is to be done?" as a party building model but I
don't think we should get too dismissive about it. Almost all the
practical organizational ideas were wiped out as Russia headed toward
the 1905 revolution, but much of it retains profound value today -- the
chapter on the all-Russian newspaper is really inspirational as well as
enlightening on the "social weight" of even seemingly small democratic
Some correction of the overemphases on control from the top (a product
of the underground conditions which were easing in fact as the regime
weakened) and on workers' consciousness coming from the intelligentsia
(certainly NOT completely untrue but definitely incomplete) were
modified or revised completely.
This is still one of my favorite books by Lenin. It may have become
outdated in the early 1900s. But in some ways I think it is less
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