[Marxism] Are the Cliffites a cult? (was Re: Class struggle...)

Wayne S. Rossi felianan at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 29 14:06:19 MST 2005

--- Joaquín Bustelo <jbustelo at bellsouth.net> wrote:

> Because the real cult, the real heart of darkness, aren't the
> cults of the individuals but the cult of the *organization,*
> aka "The Leninist Strategy of Party Building" as we in the
> "other" SWP used to call it.
> Why do Trot groups constantly give rise to cults of personality?
> (And not just Trots, the Moscovite Stalinists and Maoists are
> equally susceptible, witness "Browderism," the [late] cult of
> Marcial ["The Ho Chi Minh of the Americas"] in the Salvadorean
> FPL, the antics of that Chairman Bob of the RCP [he's a real
> Lenin of our times and wears a workers cap just like Lenin did
> to prove it] and so on) 
> Because of the pre-existing cominternist/zinovievist cult of
> "the Leninist Party," the all saving-formula that shows just
> HOW a revolution is to be made, the magic bullet, the stake
> that must be driven through the heart of the vampire, or as
> James P. Cannon, the (American) SWP's founding leader put it,
> the single most important contribution to Marxist theory since
> Marx and Engels. The revolutions in China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.,
> notwithstanding.

The problem of Zinovievism - the core organizational beliefs of all
flavors of "Marxist-Leninist" parties - is of considerable significance
on the Left today; and I believe that Joaquín - and others, such as
Louis Proyect - are right to criticize it.  There is a fetishization of
an organizational model beyond anything that can be considered a
dialectical, historical approach; it is the stretching of the Russian
model anywhere and everywhere.

When it comes down to the wire, Lenin does not credit his own
organizational methods for the success of the Russian Revolution.  He
writes in Left-Wing Communism:

"As a current of political thought and as a political party, Bolshevism
has existed since 1903. Only the history of Bolshevism during the
entire period of its existence can satisfactorily explain why it has
been able to build up and maintain, under most difficult conditions,
the iron discipline needed for the victory of the proletariat.

"The first questions to arise are: how is the discipline of the
proletariat’s revolutionary party maintained? How is it tested? How
is it reinforced? First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian
vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity,
self-sacrifice and heroism. Second, by its ability to link up, maintain
the closest contact, and—if you wish—merge, in certain measure,
with the broadest masses of the working people—primarily with the
proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses of working
people. Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised
by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and
tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own
experience, that they are correct. Without these conditions, discipline
in a revolutionary party really capable of being the party of the
advanced class, whose mission it is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and
transform the whole of society, cannot be achieved. Without these
conditions, all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat
and end up in phrasemongering and clowning. On the other hand, these
conditions cannot emerge at once. They are created only by prolonged
effort and hard-won experience. Their creation is facilitated by a
correct revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not a dogma, but
assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical
activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement."

I'm sorry for quoting such a long section of something most people here
probably read years ago, but look at what Lenin is saying in an essay
at the inauguration of the Comintern era.  He is arguing that the
leadership and discipline of the Bolsheviks came out of their struggle.
 Chapter 2 of Left-Wing Communism, as well as chapters 3 and 4, is
devoted by Lenin to discussing the conditions that produced the
victorious Bolshevik party.  It really deserves to be returned to as a
work to be studied in today's organizational question - but as a
historical work for study, like Two Tactics, and not as a handbook for
modern party-building.

Left-Wing Communism is, like much of Lenin's work, polemical against
one tendency or another.  It is, by name, targeted at the ultraleft
tendencies in Europe and the United States, against those who would
remove the socialist movement from practical struggle at a time of
revolutionary urgency.  It was written with the expectation of immanent
proletarian revolutions in the advanced countries - and so loses a lot
of its relevancy, since the conditions are not present today.

Still, Lenin's warning rings very true today:  "Without these
conditions, all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat
and end up in phrasemongering and clowning."  Sectarian grouplets over
the years have proved him right over and over again; the posturing of
the Socialist Equality Party, the purges of probably the large majority
of the (American) Socialist Workers Party, the guru-worship of the
Revolutionary Communist Party, USA; these all make Lenin's words into a
veritable prophecy.

I would argue, however, that we are in desperate need of a serious,
independent socialist leadership on the Left, and that events have
reached a point where a socialist (even specifically Marxist) group has
to work its way into the position of vanguard.  I mean this in the most
literal sense possible:  such a group does not proclaim its vanguard
status, but rather earns it through much the same process that Lenin
describes for the Bolsheviks.

I appreciate the sincere anti-sectarian tendencies of many on this
list, but I think that working out how to accomplish this is more
important than complaining about any single group.  The only real plan
I've ever come across outside of Zinovievist aping of an imagined ideal
of the Bolsheviks is Draper's "Alternative to the Micro-Sect," but his
"political center" idea seems to have gone nowhere.  Is anyone working
on serious organizational theory beyond the tin imitations of the
RSDLP(B) that fill the movement?


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