The blog of the faction lead by Richard Seymour is now hosting attacks on Leninism by John Game, Schuyler Kempton and others: http://www.internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/how-to-become-leninist.html#comment-form.
This thread contains different perspectives. Readers are served up a dollop of undigested gruel. Here is the conclusion of John Game’s introduction:
- My vision of such an alternative is of democratic centralism without a single full-timer, with formal leadership of every kind based on the electoral principle from top to bottom. If we need a paper we can write it ourselves, if we need speakers we do it ourselves – we don’t require herding around or substituting for. It’s a challenge, organizing democratically in such conditions: but I think such a challenge can be met. More importantly if it could be done it would put flesh on the bones of the proposition that self-emancipation is compatible with mass socialist organisation.
Lenin’s democratic centralism was about the professionalization of the workers party. The idea that he would have tolerated the absence of full-timers in the RSDLP is beyond a joke.
John Game is a skeptic on the question of whether democratic centralists need a paper? Lenin’s main document on the kind of party that was required (‘What is to be done?’) referred to the revolutionary paper as the scaffolding around which Marxists will build their workers’ party. The fact that John Game dismisses the paper as irrelevant is…. troubling.
It is certainly true that Marxists have to move beyond the paper as Lenin understood it. This is clearly essential due to changes in the real world. The internet, the world-wide web, popular social media like twitter, the uploading of videos on YouTube, live streaming of marches, demonstrations, democratic forums, with mobile phones used all across the planet to keep tabs on how the special bodies of armed men, and women too, BTW, (soldiers as well as cops, fascists and agent provocateurs who have infiltrated our movement) are smashing up our democratic protests…. All this interactive multimedia content changes the nature of the paper championed by Lenin. What we need is not the abandoning of the paper, but of a paper plus.
Leninists have to move into the twenty first century. We need to embrace interactivity made possible by twitter et al. We have the technology (at relatively low cost now) to reach out to and mobilize many more independent grass roots groups, groups that will fight for their own limited demands, groups that will work with Leninists without surrendering their own autonomy to a party they are not members of. And why should they be expected to surrender such autonomy? Leninists have never demanded that.
Hard copy newspapers are going the way of the dinosaur within the socialist movement every bit as much as in the world of the capitalist mass media. Websites are where it is at, comrades. With broadband there is no excuse for not taking full advantage of multimedia. We have to appreciate the falling away of sharp dividing lines between primarily text-based journalism (as Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Gramsci and Harman understood it) and what is happening today, with print journalists becoming broadcasters in their own right, if only by guest appearances on all the main news channels. Pure hard-copy print newspapers can no longer provide scaffolding robust enough to build a Leninist party.
An incredible amount of socialist journalism has to be given away for free these days, just like every other form of journalism. But the party will never be able to dispense with full-timers. There will, as ever, be a mass of volunteers: citizen journalists, both those who pay for the privilege of participation in the democratic mechanisms of the party (financially and by time commitments: the members) and those who are ad hoc contributors due to wanting to reach as many members of our class for our shared goals. But there must, simultaneously, be a considerable degree of professionalism inside the Leninist party, and that requires a division of labour. And that means there have to be incentives to recruit worker-activists to the party who will make voluntary financial contributions to pay the wages and pensions of these dedicated full-timers: organizers, educators, polemicists, journalists, economists, those with the time to get to grips with complexities that most workers cannot find out for themselves. That is what people like Chris Harman got paid to do. Such professional revolutionaries are, and always will be, indispensable.
John Game also has this to say:
- I remain broadly a Leninist in the sense that I want to see organisation based on the most militant sections of the movement rather then simply a passive organisation reflecting the whole class (or, to put it in contemporary language, the electorate).
Since when did the ‘electorate’ under universal suffrage comprise the working class and nothing but the working class? Don’t capitalists have a vote? Don’t the petty bourgeois and the new middle class? What is the point of so misrepresenting fundamental questions in this way? Intellectual laziness or something altogether more sinister?
John Game’s attempt to draw a veil over the irreconcilability of class antagonisms within ‘the electorate’ serves the purpose of masquerading the fact that elections under bourgeois democracy are distorted by the near monopoly the ruling class has over the means of mental production, that being what explains the fact that in every class society the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. The separation off of the class conscious section of the class with radical chains (the working class) into its own party with a clear perspective is what Leninism is all about. This idea can be traced in embryo to The Communist Manifesto:
Here are extracts from Chapter IV of Marx and Engels Communist Manifest, “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties”:
- Section II has made clear the relations of the Communists to the existing working-class parties, such as the Chartists in England and the Agrarian Reformers in America.
- The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement. In France, the Communists ally with the Social-Democrats(1) against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution.
… … …
- But they never cease, for a single instant, to instill into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, in order that the German workers may straightway use, as so many weapons against the bourgeoisie, the social and political conditions that the bourgeoisie must necessarily introduce along with its supremacy, and in order that, after the fall of the reactionary classes in Germany, the fight against the bourgeoisie itself may immediately begin.
- In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.
- In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.
- Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.
- The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
Working Men of All Countries, Unite!
Hypocritical Stalinists that Richard Seymour’s cheerleaders are, I don’t doubt for a second that my critical comments will be deleted from their blog before to long. Either way, here are a few preliminary observations on this anti-Leninist rant from Schuyler Kempton:
- Were the Russian Social Democratic Party anti-capitalist? Actually, that wasn’t even the name of the party. It was Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, not Russian Social Democratic Party.
- Secondly, far from being anti-capitalist, the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks both organized to drag Russia into capitalism, not to overthrow capitalism. Only the microscopic supporters of Leon Trotsky (who for most of the RSDLP’s existence was little more than one isolated individual) argued for an anti-capitalist perspective.
- Thirdly, the RSDLP was not an alternative to factionalism. When Lenin’s proposals for a democratic centralist regime were defeated due to his group splitting, he launched his Bolshvevik faction as a democratic centralist faction within the broader workers’ party, the RSDLP.
- Fourthly, when the Mensheviks grouped around themselves every sectarian who harbored a grudge against Lenin for exposing their shoddy thinking, whose only response was to gang up against the Bolshevik to damage them, Lenin’s group called it a day and reformed the faction as a party in its own right, one which remained committed to united fronts, of course.
- Fifthly, we need to examine Trotsky’s role in all this. He had been more right than anyone else vis-a-vis the prognosis of how the immanent Russian Revolution could positively transcend capitalism, do so due to the cowardliness of the capitalist class, having seen how its revolutions in the past had let lose radical masses who raised the property question. The Russian Revolution, Trotsky also argued, could transcend its economic limits. It could do this by providing the spark for wider workers revolutions in Germany and elsewhere. That would release the economic resources needed for a small working class in Russia to move to socialism, arm-in-arm with their German brothers and sisters. Having said all of this, it remains true that Lenin’s critique of Trotsky was nowhere near as one-sided as Trotsky always claimed. Lenin did get a hell of a lot right. In certain crucial respects, Lenin’s position was superior to Trotsky’s. However, even if Trotsky had been one hundred percent right as against Lenin, he should have united with the rest of the democratic centralists, working as a loyal Bolshevik, conceding the legitimacy of majority votes. That, by the way, is how all minorities must orientate towards their party when it is the party of class conscious revolutionaries, rather than a broad church swamp embracing pro-capitalist revisionists like Eduard Bernstein or Ed Miliband. When revolutionaries fail to persuade the majority of their comrades of their ‘heretical’ proposals, then you take it on the chin. You do not split like John Rees and Lindsey German did a few years back. You do what I trust Pat Stack intends to keep on doing: remember that in the real world, you win some, you lose some; you live to fight another day by abiding by the collective decision making of the most class conscious section of our class. That is what Lenin did when he lost votes. It is what Trotsky did. It is what Gramsci did. And it is what Rosa Luxemburg did when she lost so many crucial votes at the inaugural congress of the German Communist Party. This democratic centralist attitude to collective discipline is not in the least bit less democratic than what Richard Seymour’s outrageous and unapologetic contempt for one majority vote after another.
- Richard Seymour is the figurehead of a network comprising (initially) seventy examples of petty bourgeois riff raff. These egocentric students who take themselves to be the salt of the Earth jumped before the SWP could conduct a rigorous investigation into their role in a witch hunt of individual party members, trying to raise an army of mindless vigilantes a la Rebekah Brooks, denying the accused the presumption of innocence, due process and natural justice. By blaming the SWP for those who made the allegations not going to the police, the entire SWP is now the victim of a large scale witch hunt. These so-called comrades have deliberately and maliciously dragged in the bourgeois media, potentially the bourgeois state as well. Why have they done this? It’s not out of any principle. Richard Seymour’s Trojan Horse for the class enemy behaved the way it did in order to smash the SWP. They have done this clearly on behalf of a class riven by a crisis of global proportions, one that will inevitably provoke monumental struggles in Britain as it already has in many other parts of the world.
- The working class and its allies in Britain as elsewhere is moving back to the 1930, comrades. On the agenda once more is the stark choice of socialism or barbarism. A democratic centralist party is needed today more than ever before. That is why splitters such as Richard Seymour will be exposed. It is why their attempts to betray working class unity will come back to haunt them.