[Marxism] Why "Leninism" persists

Ed George edgeorge1963 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 8 02:18:39 MST 2013

Louis Proyect: 'As I have pointed out in the past, small propaganda 
groups do serve a useful role. They are often the way that people are 
exposed to socialist ideas for the first time. In the 1950s a fellow 
named Nathan Pressman used to stay at a bungalow colony in my village in 
upstate NY. He was a member of the Socialist Labor Party who used to 
write letters to the local newspaper like clockwork pointing out the 
ills of capitalist society, especially the threat of nuclear war which 
was palpable back then. The groups with socialist or communist or 
workers or labor in their name, with their hammers and sickles, and 
their revolutionary continuity going back to Karl Marx are carrying on 
in Nathan's footsteps.'


Under present non-revolutionary conditions, in the absence of a 
politically conscious working class movement, an organisation of 
revolutionary socialists can be nothing other than a sect; but it is a 
sect through necessity, not through choice. Marx once wrote (in a letter 
to Friedrich Bolte in 1871) that the existence of sects and the level of 
development of the class conscious workers movement stand in inverse 
ratio to each other: ‘So long as the sects are (historically) justified, 
the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement. 
As soon as it has attained this maturity all sects are essentially 
reactionary.’ In other words, when there is no ‘independent historic’ 
working class movement, when revolutionary socialist class consciousness 
remains confined to the atypical experience of individuals, there is no 
*other* road to revolutionary socialist organisation than a sect. But a 
sect is not a *party*. The Communist Manifesto argues that Communists 
‘do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape 
and mould the proletarian movement.’ A sect, which is a sect through the 
necessity of historical conditions, a sect which knows itself to be sect 
and knows why it is a sect, exists not to teach the working class 
movement as it actually exists, but to learn from it; to keep the idea 
of revolutionary socialism alive, to clarify its contradictions and 
ambiguities [...] so as better to maintain its credibility. But once a 
politically conscious working class movement *does* appear the duty of 
such a sect is to participate in it on that movement’s *own* terms, not 
to speak in the name of the sect but to help the movement to speak in 
its *own* name. Thus when the revolutions of 1848 broke out, and with 
the first copies of the Communist Manifesto only just returned from the 
printers, rather than declare the Communist League ‘the’ revolutionary 
party, and seek to impose its politics on the revolutionary movement, 
Marx and Engels dissolved their sect *into* the revolutionary movement 
and set up a daily newspaper instead; for if the Communist League was a 
sect, it was a sect that knew it was a sect, and it knew what its 
purpose was, and was not.

But the sect that that believes itself today to be not a sect but a 
party, if not *the* party, is not capable of behaving in this way. A 
sect that believes itself to be a party will not possess either the 
disposition or the humility to learn from the working class movement, to 
refrain from trying to impose itself on the class conscious movement 
when it emerges rather than forming a part of it, to resist trying to 
speak in the name and on the behalf of the working class movement. In 
present conditions, such sects are a *hindrance* to the maintenance of 
the idea of revolutionary socialism; in the long run, they will act as 
an obstacle to the class conscious revolutionary movement, an obstacle 
that movement will have to sweep out of the way.


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