[Marxism] “Leninism” Meets the 21st Century

DCQ davecq at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 15 08:59:18 MST 2013

I think this is actually kind of a sad contribution, and shows the extent to which Binh, whatever other positive things he may be involved in, is really just coming across as obsessed with "settling scores." 

"The SWP Spring"? Comparing the SWP to the capitalist system? Baseless innuendo about "dirt" Martin Smith may have on the rest of the CC (when the personal relationships they had with him are more than enough to raise a serious question of bias, leaving aside they should never have been adjudicating this in the first place)?

None of this helps, and is really just gloating, smacking more of amateur-anarchist "you're just like the bosses because you have leaders!" impressionism. His self-important, arrogant dismissal of Seymour's stand is truly laughable. Richard has more guts and brains and serious political instinct than Binh has ever shown.

Of course left groups should have "open books" (detailed annual financial reports to the membership). Of course left groups should allow "permanent factions" (though it also needs a way to make sure obsessive jerks don't completely derail or paralyze the organization). Of course there are better ways to elect leadership. Of course left groups shouldn't be trying serious crimes in place of the legal system with closed and biased hearings (or even open ones).

But the root problem isn't one of ideas or misconceptions about "Leninism." I would argue that is a symptom, not a cause.

The problem is a political one. I think one of Duncan Hallas's greatest insights (and he had many) was that the phenomenon we call sectarianism isn't, at root, just whether of not someone is a jerk or a loony. They often are, but he pointed out that the real problem was a political misappraisal of the times. So, in this view, why the orthodox Trotskyist groups imploded and fractured and split and became Monty-Pythonesque parodies was not fundamentally that they had wildly inflated ideas about their own self-importance and the importance of their proclamations and denunciations and reorganizations--although they obviously did. It was that they were "holding their breath" and kept expecting the imminent collapse of the capitalist system during the height of its post-war stability. Any compromise or failure or uncertainty on their part might make them unready when millions--millions!!--of working-class people suddenly were ready to flock to their banners. When this didn't happen, even though half the world seemed to be going "Communist" (at least kinda sorta), and even though the world economy should have been falling into its death throes any moment according to their obviously correct theories, then the obvious answer was that it was the other grouplets' fault for "misleading" the class. If the politics are right, then any problems must be bureaucratic. Cue the denunciations and splits. All (or at least most of) the organizational stupidly and cultishness flowed from that.

Likewise, it's been my position that the SWP has been adrift politically since the late 90s, ever since they expected a huge crisis after Blair's election. When that crisis didn't happen, they entered the "holding their breath" phase. Then when some crises did hit, they began to exaggerate their impact. Starting with the war in the Balkans and then even more with the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist/post-Seattle upsurge. A political debate that should have happened internally was instead focused bureaucratically outward on the various sections in the IST (Germany, Greece, Australia, the US), and then bureaucratically inward (SSP, SA, RESPECT, STWC, Counterfire).

On a high political level, I think the group has underestimated the resilience of the imperialist core, and misunderstood its ability to both push the crisis outward militarily, and its ability to return to profitability (partly by offloading the crisis to the periphery, as it did with the Asian crisis in the late 90s) and partly through advanced state-capitalist methods (encouraging asset bubbles and debt peonage (credit cards, mortgages, student loans) which has allowed them to quell crises rather quickly (LA, Seattle, Occupy) in exchange for pushing them down the road, and partly through the complicity of the traditional post-WWII institutional opposition in demobilizing and tamping down the expectations of their constituents (only the last of which can meaningfully be challenged by socialist groups today). The political period itself fosters these problems. In a period of rebellion, growing a revolutionary organization is easy (growing a decent, long-lived one may be harder). In a period of reaction and defeat, it's all but impossible (by definition). In a (relatively) stable period punctuated by (worsening) crises, it is extremely difficult. 

Of course, there were problems before that. I would propose that the way in which the whole IST formulated the "downturn" thesis bent the stick too far in one direction, so that when things did begin to crack up more, it was easy to exaggerate the importance. (The SWP's anti-feminism stems from this period as well.) And the way in which the group(s) adapted to this period by attaching a high level of importance to party intellectuals who could spend their time reading pretty much damn well everything and writing reams of stuff (which was usually very good) ended up flipping the role of the party. Instead of the intellectuals listening to the on-the-ground activists, the activists were trained to defer to the intellectuals. And academics have training and a professional interest in arguing minutiae and in always being right (which has been an issue with Marxism since Marx). (BTW, I find it interesting to note in the SWP's recently leaked documents that it still has a predilection for referring to political issues as a series of "tests" that a group can either pass or fail.)

Like Seymour, I believe that there is a lot of good to be salvaged from the SWP. Hundreds of excellent, committed activists with a wealth of experience and talent. Many brilliant intellectuals and speakers and writers. And a tradition of political independence and commitment to human liberation that--while not pristine--is something to be incredibly proud of. I wish him and all the comrades who want to stay and fight the best of luck and all my solidarity (small comfort though that is).


On Jan 14, 2013, at 11:40 AM, Louis Proyect wrote:

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> Pham Binh on the larger issues surrounding the SWP crisis: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=4691
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