[Marxism] The sociology of Leninist organizations

Scott J. scottinoakland at gmail.com
Sun Dec 14 16:39:27 MST 2014


Leninists believe that there needs to be a revolutionary workers’
organization in order for the working class to challenge the capitalist
system. Realizing that it is difficult to build a revolutionary workers’
organization, Leninists have often built an intermediate form instead,
recruiting and convincing individuals to the idea of building such an
organization in the future. The disparity between recruiting people to
ideas and building working class power is rarely acknowledged beyond the
belief that they will get to it eventually.

The fundamental flaw of the Leninist Model, as we will call it, is this
notion that a revolutionary workers’ organization, or the precursor to it,
can be recruited into existence. On the contrary, such an organization can
only be built as a product of struggle, and yet Leninists have sought to
recruit people to Marxist ideas even in the absence of struggle. The idea
that a revolutionary cadre can be built by recruiting people, more often
than not middle-class, rarely with any material stake in the success of the
organization or the struggles they are involved in, is an idealist and
moralistic conception that is completely contrary to any understanding of
Marxist theory or even to the writings and experience of Lenin himself.
Leninists assume, nonetheless, that because they believe this effort is at
the service of class struggle that it will all work out fine, as though
their organization is exempt from the forces that affect all other
institutions in capitalist society.

This article will attempt to provide the beginnings of a materialist
analysis of how Leninists have sought to build revolutionary workers’
organizations but have more often built bureaucratic sects instead. The
problem is not just that it is quite hard to build the former but also that
it is quite a bit easier to build the latter. Sectarian behavior is
“normal” and “natural” and Leninists have usually formalized their
sectarianism with bureaucratic rules and norms rather than built structures
to counteract it. This article will also attempt to bring in some
theoretical tools from outside of Marxism, particularly from the sociology
of organizations and social psychology, which should help enlighten rather
than negate the Marxist method.

We will focus on the Leninist Model, specifically the one subscribed to by
the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) for the last few decades. That
is, an organization which focuses on recruitment to a very specific set of
Marxist ideas; which subscribes to a particular form of democratic
centralism in which the leadership debates their views in secret and then
present a united front to the membership, who then debate their views in
secret and present a united front to the world at large; which places a
high priority on recruitment to the organization itself; but which
nonetheless engages in social movements including protests and strikes in
order to recruit people to this project.

There are problems with the rules of democratic centralism, but the problem
lies not in the rules themselves. Rather, the rules merely legitimize the
organizational behavior that flows inherently from the Leninist Model. The
rules and norms are merely symptoms. What needs to change are the
fundamental organizational methods which have distorted the behavior of
Leninists without them even realizing it.

Article continues here:

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