[Marxism] Burying Lenin

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 4 19:13:51 MST 2013

On 2/4/13 8:46 AM, Ben Campbell wrote:
> Burying Lenin
> by Dario Cankovic
> "As an aspiring socialist activist I’ve kept a close eye on developments on
> the left, and have watched with interest the crisis that is sweeping the
> Socialist Workers Party (UK), as I think the crisis (instigated by the
> appalling sexist treatment of female comrades and the atrocious mishandling
> of rape allegations by the Party) represents an opportunity for a decisive
> break with sectarianism and the failed “Leninist” party model, not just
> within the SWP(UK) but for the broader socialist left..."
> http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=5564

More from Dario:

Dario Cankovic February 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm

     While I hope that all forms of ‘Marxist-Leninism’—all forms of 
hyphenated-Marxism—are in their death throes, if we are to succeed at 
building a mass socialist movement where Leninists failed, we have to 
understand not just WHAT went wrong with Leninism (that much is clear), 
but also HOW and WHY the once vibrant left degenerated into the pathetic 
state that it is in today. I don’t think Leninists are ‘merely 
mistaken’, that their behaviour is ‘a capitulation to capital’, nor that 
it is`a form of identity politics’ that appeals to the self-image of its 
members. I find all these explanations overly idealistic.

     In the first half of the 20th-century, when the Soviet Union still 
represented an alternative to capitalism in the eyes of many, it is 
understandable why people would try to flock to Leninist organizations. 
Not to mention, throughout the 20th-century the Soviet Union, the PRC, 
and various other `actually existing socialist’ states funnelled tons of 
money into various Leninist organizations around the world. As if the 
prestige of the Russian Revolution wasn’t enough, the Chinese 
Revolution, and the success of various national liberation movements, 
such as the Vietnamese, lead by a nominally ‘Leninist’ party, lent 
further credence to the claim of Leninists that they could successfully 
lead revolution. Unfortunately many Marxists were blind to the fact that 
these ‘revolutions’ all happened in the developing world, as evidenced 
by the establishment of many Maoist sects; how Maoism, an ideology and 
strategy based on a massive peasant class, is of any relevant to 
advanced industrial countries is beyond me.

     The existence of the Soviet Union, especially in the immediate 
aftermath of WWII, where even many bourgeois thought that the Soviet 
Union represented a new type of society, an alternative to capitalism, 
gave the ruling class an incentive to give considerable concessions to 
the working class in the advanced industrial countries. Not to mention, 
during the so-called post-war ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’, where the rate 
of profit was still relatively high, capital could afford those 
concessions. Reformism seemed to be working, in fact, even reformism, in 
its traditional sense of an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, 
approach to building socialism was abandoned. The social-democratic 
parties took on the task of ameliorating the worst effects of 
capitalism, of building `a capitalism with a human face’. It is no 
wonder that the working class in the West, which enjoyed unprecedented 
standards of living, and unprecedented rise in standards of living, 
would ally itself with social-democracy. Especially seeing as the Soviet 
‘socialism’ wasn’t able to deliver the same standards of living as 
capitalism. This also explains the appeal of the Soviet model in the 
developing world, but not the developed: the Soviet Union represented a 
massive step back for the developed world, but a massive step forward 
for the developing. Hence Leninists parties found most success in the 
developing world.

     Since the crisis of the 70′s that brought an end to the post-war 
book, an end to the Golden Age, capital has taken back all the 
concessions. And this neoliberal assault on the gains of 
social-democracy continued unabated, and has in fact intensified, in the 
wake of the latest crisis. The discrediting of the Soviet model in the 
eyes of most workers in the advanced industrial countries, and the 
eventual collapse of the Soviet Union itself, as well as China’s 
adoption of capitalism, has done away with the raison d’être for 
concessions. The Leninist sects which still linger in the wake of 
collapse of the Soviet Union are dying out, especially if they prove 
themselves irrelevant, as I believe they have, to the contemporary 
struggle. Leninists playacted as though they were the vanguard of the 
proletariat, that all the working class was waiting for was the spark to 
set off the revolution, and when that revolution didn’t come, when the 
working class ignored them, they turned on each other, bickering over 
minutia, blaming each other for their failure.

     In short, not only is the Leninist model not suited to building a 
mass socialist movement, the material conditions for building one in the 
advanced industrial countries wasn’t right. It wasn’t just that they had 
the wrong kind of organization—to say that would be to make the same 
mistakes that the Leninists make—but that the working class wasn’t ready 
for struggle. Capitalism was working for the working class—in large part 
thanks to the efforts of the socialist movement and to the fear of 
revolution by the ruling class—now that it no longer is we have a window 
of opportunity to rebuild the socialist movement. Leninism. a product of 
the 20th-century, a degeneration of Marxism which emerged in agrarian 
authoritarian conditions, isn’t fit as a model for building a 
21st-century socialist movement.

     I think we should go back and re-examine the Second International, 
they still represent the largest and most successful mass socialist 
parties outside the Leninist tradition. The experience of 
social-democracy in the 20th-century has taught us the dangers of 
reformism, I think we can learn those lessons without completely 
jettisoning the entire heritage of the Second International, as the 
Leninists tried to do. Not to mention, capital can no longer afford 
concessions. The second half of the 20th-century was a remarkably stable 
period for capitalism, I think we have finally returned to another 
unstable period, another revolutionary period. After the 20th-century’s 
long detour through Leninism, it’s time to go back to plain old Marxism 
and see where that takes us.

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