[Marxism] The fight in the SWP, conclusion (What kind of party we need)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 28 12:30:59 MST 2008

On Christmas day, Joonas Laine, a Marxmail subscriber from Finland, 
raised some interesting issues as a comment in my response to Alex 

	I’ve been reading Louis’ writings with interest for several years 
(since 2004 or so), also the ones on the Marxmail list about DSP etc. As 
I don’t really know so much about the parties that he’s discussing, I 
can’t know how spot-on his analyses are in this respect, but I find the 
general organisational questions very interesting, also re what I’m 
involved with at the moment.

	However, having much less experience with being involved in 
organisations (apart from volunteer based and rather loose NGOs or 
various kinds, plus some ineffective communist organisations), I think 
Louis is discussing only one side of the issue. I guess that’s called 
bending the stick, but to a person with less experience, it would be 
interesting to read also about the other side, i.e. what is it that is 
valid in “organisation building” or whatever you want to call it..? To 
me Louis seems to emphasise first and foremost what SHOULDN’T be done 
(and a lot of that I find persuading), but I can’t be sure just what he 
takes for granted in “organisation building” so that it doesn’t need to 
be mentioned.

	In particular I’m thinking, when the organisation has developed so that 
it has physical assets like buildings and business activities to raise 
money for political activities, surely there has to be some principles 
to defend these resources from takeover etc. Who can be trusted with 
control over these resources etc., surely political questions have to 
play a part there too. Also I’m not sure how Louis sees the issue of 
“professional revolutionaries”, i.e. people getting paid by the 
organisation to do political work for the cause.

While I will try to answer the specific concerns he raised in the last 
paragraph, I also want to try to deal with the broader question of what 
kind of organizational approach I am for. So instead of the usual 
Zinoviev-bashing, I am going to focus more on what needs to be done.

I am not exactly sure if this is what Joonas was driving at, but it 
reminded me very much over the fight for assets that ensued after the 
CPUSA split in 1994:

	The Communist Party, U.S.A. is celebrating its 75th anniversary at a 
time when its public profile seems to have hit a new low, with the 
Soviet variety of Communism that the party has long venerated now 
repudiated at home and abroad.

	But now the party has been decimated by a new spate of defections. It 
is at war with former comrades over money and property it says they 
stole, and over the direction of what remains of the American far left.

	Many of the party’s best-known members have quit to form a new 
organization, the Committees of Correspondence, which says it is looking 
for a new path to socialism.

	The party is suing some of those defectors, charging they have 
absconded with its property — holdings in San Francisco that the party 
values at more than $1 million and money it says had been willed to it.

Quite honestly, I don’t have any answers to this except what might sound 
like a platitude, namely the need to have accountability to the ranks 
and democratic control over the organization. When you build a party, 
there will always be assets like a printing press, buildings, etc. that 
will be up for grabs in a split. Unlike a divorce, there is no provision 
for joint custody. Just as is the case in the business world, winner 
takes all.

Beyond the question of democracy, there is also the matter of what type 
of infrastructure is appropriate for the 21st century. Keep in mind that 
Lenin sought to build a party that was in sync with the latest 
developments in capitalist industry. By 1905 Russian factories were 
among the most modern on the planet despite the overall backwardness of 
the economy. Lenin believed that the Bolshevik party needed to reflect 
the division of labor, etc. that typified the latest industrial 
techniques. Hence the concept of professional revolutionaries, a kind of 
changeable part that could be replaced when a comrade was hauled off to 
prison. He saw the Economist trend as reflecting earlier phases of the 
Russian economy that were based in the handicrafts. Their refusal to 
adopt a nationwide and fully accountable structure based on democratic 
centralism reflected outmoded thinking that was connected to a more 
backward mode of production.


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