[Marxism] On: Occupy, Leninism, the SWP (UK), and a couple of other things

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Wed Feb 20 23:29:37 MST 2013

[This was part of a response to a post on The North Star from a defender 
of what he calls Leninist theory. This seemed worthwhile to share here 
and in a couple of other places. The original thread is here: 

Corey. try to wrap your head around the idea that politics is about 
social forces in motion, NOT “positions” or “principles” or “models.” 
That’s what Marx, Engels and Lenin believed. It took me until I was 34 
for that to really sink in.

In the fall of 1847, while he and Marx were thinking through the 
material that would become the Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote a 
polemic against a petty-bourgeois critic of the Communists which 
contains a really striking expression of that idea:

* * *

    Herr Heinzen

        “discerns the core of the communist doctrine simply in … the
        abolition of private property (including that earned through
        labour) and in the principle of the communal utilisation of the
        earth’s riches which follows inescapably from that abolition.”

    Herr Heinzen imagines communism is a certain /doctrine/ which
    proceeds from a definite theoretical principle as its core and draws
    further conclusions from that. Herr Heinzen is very much mistaken.
    Communism is not a doctrine but a /movement/; it proceeds not from
    principles but from /facts/. The Communists do not base themselves
    on this or that philosophy as their point of departure but on the
    whole course of previous history and specifically its actual results
    in the civilised countries at the present time. Communism has
    followed from large-scale industry and its consequences, from the
    establishment of the world market, of the concomitant uninhibited
    competition, ever more violent and more universal trade crises,
    which have already become fully fledged crises of the world market,
    from the creation of the proletariat and the concentration of
    capital, from the ensuing class struggle between proletariat and
    bourgeoisie. Communism, insofar as it is a theory, is the
    theoretical expression of the position of the proletariat in this
    struggle and the theoretical summation of the conditions for the
    liberation of the proletariat

* * *

In your original post you wrote:

“What is at stake is the very cohesion of Leninist theory. Marxism is 
not a family tree. It is most certainly not the ideology of all of those 
who claim to hold up its banner. In fact, it is consistent with Marx’s 
fight for the “ruthless criticism of all that exists”, which in this 
case is the need to criticize the notion that all ostensible “Marxists,” 
from the International Socialists to the Spartacists, are bearers of 
Marxist thought. The left, in fact, has struggled to defend the legacy 
of Lenin because it has failed to properly investigate what that legacy 
is! The origins of the crisis within the SWP, thus, rest with their 
faulty understanding of Leninist democratic centralism and its relevance 
in the present.”

I don’t believe the *origin* of the SWP’s crisis is their “faulty 
understanding of Leninist democratic centralism.” I think the *origin* 
of what is really a generalized, decades-long crisis of the 
revolutionary left in the imperialist countries has been the relatively 
privileged position of so many working people in those countries.

In the United States it led to a situation where there were really no 
manifestations of class consciousness, of class identity, on a mass 
scale, for decades. We simply have not had a working class movement 
worthy of the name, and thus we communists are an expression of the 
class movement on an international and world-historic scale, but not 
organically in relation to a movement of working people here. That’s why 
communist and socialist groups in the United States recruit their 
members from the intelligentsia and why they are –strictly speaking– 
sects, i.e., groups that are not an expression or a social force in 
motion but instead see themselves as the embodiment or preservers of a 
certain doctrine.

I believe that overall situation is now changing due to the current 
depression. “Occupy Wall Street” served as the seed that crystallized a 
rebirth of at least a rudimentary class consciousness and identity among 
tens of millions of people. It was a huge upsurge of mass activity with 
600 local occupations being created within a week or two, with thousands 
of activists arrested, usually quite consciously choosing to take the 
arrest, with tens of thousands of people drawn into political activity 
that had not been drawn in before. And with tens of millions identifying 
with the movement.

If capitalism in the United States and on a world scale manages to 
stabilize economically and begin a vigorous upswing, very likely that 
Occupy will turn out to have been a flash in the pan. But my impression 
is that things aren’t headed that way.

A fully formed political expression of our working class will come out 
of the next mass upsurge that picks up where the Occupy movement left 
things, or some stage after that.

But I would even argue that the Occupy movement was the beginning of a 
party of the working class, as Marx and Engels understood that idea. 
Because the Chartist movement in England, which Marx and Engels called 
the first workers party, wasn’t much more than the Occupy movement when 
it arose in the late 1830s around “the people’s charter” (which, BTW, 
contained exclusively bourgeois-democratic electoral reforms, such as 
the vote for all adult males, equal-sized parliamentary districts and so 

The sense in which Marx and Engels talk about workers parties doesn’t 
necessarily imply a highly structured, well organized national apparatus 
but an identity, a voice that working people recognize as their own 
voice which is distinct and counterposed to that of the rich. And they 
never changed: when Engels refers to the Henry George movement and hails 
his candidacy for mayor of New York as the emergence of a workers party 
in the United States, he wasn’t exaggerating or mistaken. “Party” in 
this sense means something akin to a side in a dispute, and that is 
created when working people, just as plain old working people adopt a 
common identity that has a clear political projection.

“Building” a party around an ideology is fundamentally idealist. Parties 
–real parties– are expressions of social forces and for there to be a 
genuine workers party the working class has to be in motion as such, and 
then political instrument(s) or expression(s) can arise out of that 
motion. The important thing is not for the party to be clear 
theoretically, advanced programmatically or well structured and 
efficiently run.

The important thing is that it be real, set into motion and draw in tons 
of working people who are just now awakening. These are the moments when 
they are learning the most basic of political lessons and people like us 
need to influence that process.

For one to be able to influence such a development you have to be inside 
it. And instead of immediately launching a war inside to change 
everything, the first task is to understand what the movement is and why 
it has taken these forms. In many/most cases, there is no point to 
incessantly preaching about things which the people involved can’t yet 
understand but in a few months will readily absorb after going through 
their own experiences. And for revolutionaries to be listened to on 
various issues as they ripen, they need to be there from the outset and 
stay there, going through the experience with the rest of the folks to 
the maximum degree possible.

Corey, your “Leninist” monotheism will only serve to isolate you from 
the mass upsurges and movements that I hope –and believe– lie before us.

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