[Marxism] Undigested thoughts on debates, factions, and leninism

DCQ davecq at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 10 20:12:20 MST 2013

On Feb 8, 2013, at 11:52 AM, Louis Proyect wrote:

> The idiotic Leninist left enshrines the right to factions in their idiotic constitutions but once you form one you get expelled. That is the reality of the sectarian left.

If we're all idiots, then why all the interest? Does it really not matter if the faction and Richard, China, Emma, Linda, etc.'s platform is successful or not (or partially)? I tend to think it is enormously important--and a good example of how the global crisis echoes in our very consciousness.

Callinicos and Kimber are the vestiges of the bunker mentality in which the far left--rightly or wrongly (probably mostly wrongly, sad to say)--survived/existed during the neo-liberal downturn (or perhaps even the whole post-WWII) period. That is, the CC (or is the the BCC?) could easily have expelled them without much fuss in the 80s or 90s. Now? Quite simply, they can't (not easily, that is).


Tahrir. SYRIZA. Occupy.

In other words, when there's jack shit going on, the only criteria one has for who is right or wrong are academic. And people can simply claim, "I'm right." And if they also happen to control the machinery of an organization--no matter how gnat-fart small--then their voice is louder (relatively speaking). However, when there is something going on--when a mass movement of millions topple a dictator in a key imperial flashpoint, when the central nervous system (I hesitate to call it a brain) of the global financial system is physically occupied, when the question of a workers government is raised in the achilles heel of the European imperium--people have something concrete by which to actually judge the rightness or wrongness of a position. And I think people are beginning to see that maybe people who answered questions differently have succeeded in different ways (or at least failed equally or even less badly) and have something to teach us all.

Why was *this* the issue that blew up in their faces?

Savile. Strauss-Kahn. The "legitimate rape" republicans. Pussy riot. Slutwalks. India.

Alongside the explosive mass movements, there has been a growing disgust with the way women are treated and a resulting women's fightback, a shift in consciousness that, while not as photogenic as the others, permeates the bedrock of the whole of society. Women have seen the promises of women's liberation systematically denied, taken away, or strangled in its crib. And when they have protested their domestic and sexual peonage, they have been belittled, dismissed, condescended to, beaten, raped, and killed.

If the faction fails, then there will be expulsions and an exodus of dozens, if not hundreds of members from the SWP. Those that don't just give up on socialism all together out of bitterness will have to reinvent the wheel, and will make all sorts of mistakes in doing so, while also having to fend off an increasingly bureaucratic and small-minded rump SWP that--thanks to the Internet--will be branded as something akin to a rape-cult. Not obviously as bad as Healy's, but always mentioned in the same breath. Sectarian bitterness will be a reality, and the prospects for the British left will diminish for at least the short term, and bear the scars of it much longer.

If, however, they succeed in reorienting the SWP--and drawing a clear line (to borrow a phrase) between it and the shameful approval (on what factual basis?) of a fundamentally flawed investigation into rape--and coming to even a partial reckoning with a decade and a half of failed perspectives, so that the SWP emerges stronger, more confident, more willing to work with others in a more open, honest, and comradely manner, more appreciative of dissent, debate, and critical thinking--not just for its own sake (though that would be valuable enough), but because of their absolutely essential role in getting a handle on what needs to be done--then this will mean they just have to turn the wheel, and the likelihood of a "British SYRIZA*" is much greater.

*Not, of course, that Greece's history and decades of general strikes and rising trade union activity can just be copy & pasted where such things don't exist.

> Additionally, factions only get formed in deep crisis because in "normal" times there is so much peer pressure in the sect that it takes enormous self-confidence to get up and say that something was wrong. When I got up at NYC local meeting in 1978 to announce that I was transferring to K.C. to go into industry because of all the "opportunities", I was saying something I did not believe. In the Stalinist world, people do things like that because you might go to prison for telling the truth. In the sect world, you do it because you don't want to be shunned.

Louis, I'm very sorry. It's obvious you've been traumatized (and I don't mean to be condescending by saying that). I think years ago when you first shared that story (on apst?), I was inclined to be more dismissive, and say, "Then you were a shitty revolutionary." Now that I'm older and more experienced and less of an ass (hopefully), I'm much more inclined to be sympathetic.

But as bad as your experience was (or, say, a young comrade who caught Healy's eye), I don't think the answer is as simple as the "Leninist original sin." Of course, a lot of what you bring up is valid and accurate, and "leninism" is used as an excuse for all sorts of asinine and criminal stupidities (so has "marxism" for that matter), but I think there is probably something more fundamental, something inherently contradictory about building stable revolutionary groups in non-revolutionary times under conditions of bourgeois legality. Of course, it can be done, but I think the history of such groups/parties is doomed to be more or less messy, with people "making it up as they go along." What we do know from history is that it is crucial to have a large network of experienced activists that have the trust of a significant layer of their co-workers/fellow students/community who can coordinate with each other, generalize experiences from various fightbacks (both victories and defeats), think on their feet, and point a way forward in a million discrete contexts. Whether such a group calls itself Leninist or not matters as much to me as whether it calls itself socialist or communist (or not). The question is: does what it does make sense?

Final thought. It's probably pretty clear what my opinions are on Callinicos's ability to organize a fraternal international network or debate honestly. I have less experience of Kimber, but his statement at the Conference that he would vote to support the DC *whatever they determined* is a stunning example of bureaucratic cretinism (and helps lay bare the completely rubberstamp/pro forma nature of the Conference vote: how can anyone expect to criticize the DC if they keep the proceedings secret and don't allow complainants to appeal to a higher body?). But I'm sure they are sincere socialists and, if I were in Britain, I would be happy to work alongside them in whatever struggles arise (Martin Smith? not so much), again based on what little I know of them. They have proven themselves to be incompetent leaders in my eyes, and like a kid who keeps lighting fires should be kept away from matches, they should be removed from their responsibilities to keep from doing any more harm. But an organization that can handle debates between the likes of Seymour and Kimber (however intellectually unfair) on an honest basis is an organization that can attract thousands of people who want to be active, who want to fight austerity and war and oppression, who innately understand that a vote on what to *do* should be binding, but that a vote on what to *think* or *say* is patently absurd.

My $0.02.


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