[Marxism] Misconceptions about Lenin

Ben Courtice benj2006 at connexus.net.au
Thu Jan 19 03:38:48 MST 2006


In the article he wrote for the swp_usa yahoo!group Joaquin Bustelo 
included the following paragraph:

"And this is how we get such completely bizarre traditions like that it
is more "democratic" to keep discussions internal because the decisions
of a group are solely the concern of its members. But if you stop to
think about the fact that all these groups *claim* to represent, not a
membership, but a *class*, then this makes no sense whatsoever."

There is a huge error in Joaquin's argument, which his article does 
manage to cover over except in this paragraph I have quoted. The error 
lies with the words "all these groups *claim* to represent, not a
membership, but a *class*".

In actual fact, most of the groups (bar, say, the Sparts perhaps) have 
gotten over such messianic claims as "representing a class". Most 
revolutionary marxist organisations in imperialist nations are humble 
enough to admit that they only *aspire* to representing a class (at most).

Until such groups have found a way to join their theory (Marxism) with 
the practice and struggle of large numbers of workers, the distance 
between their [often] theoretical discussions of Marxism, and their 
public campaigning and propaganda, necessitates quite different levels 
in the presentation of their ideas.

This doesn't have to mean obsessive secrecy. I agree with a significant 
part of the argument made by Joaquin. It's not necessarily productive. 
Certainly in the atmosphere of inter-group rivalry that often pervades 
the "party-building" milieu, part of the function of secret discussions 
(intentionally or otherwise) is to quarantine the organisation so as to 
inoculate members against Revisionist Deviantism or whatever the rivals 
supposedly represent.

There is obviously the point as well that a lot of these internal 
discussions could be quite educational for others outside our own 
organisation -- allies, international collaborators, even our rivals 
perhaps.

But I'm still convinced there is a real place for private discussion of 
ideas.

Insofar as we are engaged in real struggles (not the propaganda-debating 
society model that some groups seem to aspire to), it can be quite 
important to keep our tactical orientation, membership implantation, or 
even membership identities a secret. Certainly here in Australia there 
are such things as employers' black lists and so on.

Outside of such obvious security concerns, there is the broader problem 
of the vast gap between Marxist ideas and working class consciousness. I 
don't think any on this list advocate "liquidating" our Marxist outlook 
for the sake of [only] appealing to the immediate interests and 
consciousness of the working class. On the other hand if you put every 
idea and debate way up front like the CPGB/Weekly Worker group you make 
yourself look weird (in their case I suspect it's also because they ARE 
weird -- but that's another discussion).

While a low-key internal discussion bulletin might seem a different 
order (more like a theoretical journal, a la Links magazine) than the 
public Weekly Worker it's still a potential liability. Unless you think 
that "any publicity is good publicity" (a notion which didn't stop 
McCarthy demonising the Communist Party), internal discussion is 
potentially abused by selective quoting out of context. We've seen a bit 
of that from Greg Adler and Bob Gould but they at least aren't outright 
red-baiting; if a nasty mainstream journo decided to get stuck into a 
Marxist internal discussion of ideas it could be pretty depressing and 
without easy recourse (unless the offending bourgeois newspaper allowed 
right of reply... unlikely!).

You can have the discussion in public. That does undermine the "look 
what they're hiding" angle of red-baiting by saying "this is what we 
think and we aren't ashamed". But that only goes so far. If your 
organisation is discussing, theoretically or tactically, measures like 
workers' self defence, general strikes, draft resistance, , 
anti-patriotic views, illegal picket lines, "smashing the state" and so 
on, it's ripe for abuse.

There's also the exacerbating factor that as a Marxist organisation 
recruits and educates activist members, their level of understanding 
often starts at a low level, and consequently, they may not phrase 
contributions to internal discussion in the most eloquent, transitional, 
tactful manner. That doesn't mean they should be censored lest some hack 
see their words and misrepresent them! Secrecy -- or, I prefer, privacy 
-- has its uses.

There is a different, pragmatic argument against private internal 
discussion bulletins. In the era of digital scanners, OCR software and 
the internet, no private internal bulletin is guaranteed privacy. While 
the loyalty of members may counter this to a degree, there is a case to 
be made that: a lot of it will be leaked anyway, better we make it all 
available in context (instead of selective snippets). This may actually 
prove to be the deciding argument.

But as I've indicated above, I don't think Joaquin's arguments are 
completely on target. If we were talking about organisations with real 
roots in the working class, "representing" their class (not merely 
working within it) he would probably be right. But then we would be in a 
very different situation indeed -- if we want to continue the discussion 
of the Bolsheviks, let's say after the mass uprising in 1905, not stuck 
somewhere in the 1890s.

Ben Courtice




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