[Marxism] Paul LeBlanc on "Marxism and Organization"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 11 10:51:43 MDT 2011

This was a talk that he gave at the ISO conference a week ago. I 
carved out some time today in order to prepare a response. I agree 
with Paul on many things but have found him veering too much in a 
"Zinovievist" direction for my own tastes (for lack of a better word.)

Surprisingly or maybe not so surprisingly, I found nothing to 
disagree with here:


I quote the section "Not getting it wrong" that is truly inspired:

One way of looking at it is to think of it [a socialist 
organization] as a club, like an organisation for those who have a 
special interest or hobby. If you are interested in history, you 
might join a history club. If you are into stamp collecting, you 
might join a stamp collecting club. If you have an incredibly high 
IQ, you might join Mensa in order to be able to get together with 
really smart people like yourself. One could see a socialist 
organisation as a sort of affinity group for those who like socialism.

If that is how you see it, I hope you won’t be offended when I say 
that I believe this is a stupid reason for organising a socialist 
group. Because if you would really like to see socialism come into 
existence, you won’t be able to make that happen in such a group.

A key to getting at the answer to the question is to realise that 
Karl Marx and his co-thinker Frederick Engels -- politically 
active in Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and elsewhere -- 
developed their thinking, what they called “scientific socialism”, 
through a serious and ongoing interaction with working-class 

This scientific socialism -- which after Marx’s death came to be 
called “Marxism” -- is a complex and multi-faceted body of thought 
with multiple sources. It was grounded in the ideas of the 
Enlightenment and also of heroic Romanticism, drawing from German 
philosophy, French revolutionary thought and British political 
economy, powerfully influenced as well by the capitalist 
Industrial Revolution and the rise of the working class, and by 
the struggles of the working class.

It involves five basic components. One of these is a dynamic 
philosophical orientation, or methodology, which is dialectical, 
materialist and humanistic. Another of these involves a theory of 
history -- which sees economic development and class struggle as 
shaping the way history unfolds. A third component involves an 
analysis of capitalism -- how it is structured, how it works, how 
it exploits a growing number of people (the working class), how it 
opens up new possibilities but also is incredibly irrational and 
destructive when it comes to human needs. A fourth component of 
Marxism is based on the notion that the working-class majority has 
the power to replace capitalism with socialism, so here Marxism 
provides a basic political program for the working class. And the 
fifth component -- which we have already touched on -- involves 
the vision of a socialist future.

What is essential to Marxism is the key notion that there must be 
a fusion of socialism with the working class if they are each to 
have a positive future.

The working class, the way Marx and Engels defined it, is composed 
of those who make a living by selling their ability to work (which 
consists of energy for manual labour, intellectual labour, or 
both). It is those whose labour creates the goods and services all 
of us depend on. It also includes family members and others 
dependent on the paychecks of those who sell their ability to work 
-- and also unemployed and retired workers. It is the creative 
majority, whose labour creates and sustains the economy on which 
society depends, those without whom capitalism could not function. 
Marxists see this as a force that potentially has the interest and 
the power to challenge capitalism. If they join together, the 
workers have the power to bring to birth a new and better world.

This provides the basis for defining the purpose of a socialist 
organisation -- but there is still room to get it wrong. If we 
simply see ourselves as a bigger, better affinity group whose 
purpose is to share our wisdom with the workers and recruit them 
into our ranks, we may be in for a big disappointment.

Some of us may have had the kind of experience of being part of a 
socialist group that appeals “from outside” to a romanticised 
abstraction, the Heroic Working Class, urging people to listen to 
our socialist ideas, buy our socialist literature, come to our 
socialist meetings and join with us in thinking revolutionary 
thoughts. This can be a way to attract some handfuls of thoughtful 
people. It is actually because of such activities that some of us 
may have become socialists and have become members of a socialist 
organisation. But some of us have also had enough experience to 
know that this doesn’t work as a means for mobilising a working 
class majority in the effort to replace capitalism with socialism.

There has been a temptation for some anti-capitalists to conclude 
that it is not possible to mobilise a working-class majority, and 
that -- few as we are -- we should simply take matters into our 
own hands, substituting ourselves for the “revolutionary 
proletarian masses” who stubbornly refuse to materialise. Perhaps 
if we take drastic action, we can shake up and radicalise a 
working-class majority -- or at least we can become militant 
avengers of the oppressed.

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