Tag Archives: Lenin

The Return of Lenin’s, “What is To Be Done?”

It’s worthy to point out that our comrades in Unity and Struggle have published a serious review of Lars Lih’s book on Lenin’s What is to be done. This review argues the strengths and weaknesses of Lenin’s, What is to be Done.

The article by Unity and Struggle begins by explaining how Lenin emphasized the importance of revolutionary theory, as vital for any revolutionary movement. This was a clear position Lenin openly advocated. What is to be done is often attacked, claiming it advocated socialist professionals to substitute themselves as the professionals to lead workers into victory. This bourgeois-anarchist critique of What is to be done ignores how Lenin advocated the development of workers as agents of revolutionary theory as a basis for such a movement. Lenin states, the workers “participate not qua workers, but qua theoreticians of socialism…they participate only insofar as they succeed to a greater or lesser extent in attaining a command of the knowledge of their century and in advancing that knowledge.” For workers to accumulate revolutionary knowledge, so they can lead revolutionary struggle is not a hierarchical centered perspective, but one that actually fosters a horizontal spirit of struggle. But the development of such theoretically developed revolutionary workers also forms the content for forming a revolutionary organization. The foundation of such an organization, a necessary body to coordinate struggle and train militants, was explained through an analogy of bricklaying work.

Lenin states,

When bricklayers lay bricks in, various parts of an enormous, unprecedentedly large structure, is it “paper” work to use a line to help them find the correct place for the bricklaying; to indicate to them the ultimate goal of the common work; to enable them to use, not only every brick, but even every piece of brick which, cemented to the bricks laid before and after it, forms a finished, continuous line? And are we not now passing through precisely such a period in our Party life when we have bricks and bricklayers, but lack the guide line for all to see and follow?…If we had a crew of experienced bricklayers who had learned to work so well together that they could lay their bricks exactly as required without a guide line…But it is unfortunate that as yet we have no experienced bricklayers trained for teamwork, that bricks are often laid where they are not needed at all, that they are not laid according to the general line, but are so scattered that the enemy can shatter the structure as if it were made of sand and not of bricks.

This activity, the formation of revolutionary militants is what needs to be done today. The economist and those partisans of spontaneity abandoned the revolutionary political training of the workers, particularly the advanced workers. Today, we don’t even have the revolutionary organizational force to offer such training, even if we agreed that is work that should be done. The formation of a new revolutionary organization needs to be able to train workers in revolutionary organizing, by first theoretically training them in marxist theory, then carrying out political work that directly flows from such theory. The young anarchist protesters find such a proposal disgusting. Action is what is wanted. But in our recent period of “actions,” capital has been able to oppress workers and movements without any real resistance. Such action is laughed at by the American capitalist. This is why Unity and Struggle’s article concludes with, “Lenin believes, militants must become institutional bearers that reproduce a common approach based upon a common theory. As militants reproduce this common approach, following Lenin’s bricklaying analogy, the masonry line is no longer needed.” In short, the movement of a Leninist approach of forming revolutionary theory in political practice, is an egalitarian act far from being guilty of what the bourgeois-anarchist critique claim. It is the concentration of working class power, and necessary political project to seriously engage in the revolutionary transition of capitalism. A new generation must struggle, and engage Lenin’s works, that focus on building revolutionary organization, in order to have the basic perspective to build a revolutionary organization today for our historical moment.

Lenin WITBDThe following essay was written awhile ago and sat around waiting to be fixed up. It can be read as a follow up to notes on Lars Lih’s important book, Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? in Context. Only recently the essay was finally fixed up enough to post here.

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It is important to deal with Lenin’s concept of organization in WITBD. The point is not to elevate WITBD into a set of principles that can be abstractly and universally applied. Like any work, WITBD is a product of history. As Lih noted in the beginning of his book such an approach has been an evident enough problem in the history of “Leninism”. However, despite Lih’s attempt to downplay the importance of WITBD in subsequent bolshevik thinking about organization, Lenin’s work—including WITBD—continues to be a necessary reference point for rethinking the role of revolutionary groups and organizations in our own day. By restoring the detailed context of Lenin’s concept of organization and reestablishing its connection to Kautsky, Lih provides the basis to learn from and critique Lenin and Leninism. In doing so he makes WITBD alive again—a renewed and important departure point for thinking about revolutionary groups and organization.

As Lih argues, the importance of WITBD was found in its generalization of already existing practices in the Russian underground, codifying and synthesizing those practices into a broad whole. The generalizing character of WITBD is what continues to make it so valuable today.
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On the Union Debate: The Internationalist Group’s Response to “The Problematic of the Union in the U.S” (1 & 2)

The Internationalist Group, a revolutionary Trotskyist organization, has written a serious response to Advance the Struggle’s two documents on the unions. Many readers will probably be a little put off by the hyper Trotskyist language of the piece, nevertheless the content of the argument is one of importance. It offers sympathy with the first union piece Unions – How do We Intervene?” And believes the other document, Revolutionaries, Unions and the emerging Class Struggle, has some serious problems, and anarchist tendencies. We appreciate the Internationalist’s serious response to both documents, and agree that all revolutionary formations must start to put out a public positions on how to relate to the unions. As the public can see, Advance the Struggle is still figuring out this question. That is why we published two pieces.

If all American left groups can clearly explain what role revolutionaries should play regarding unions, we can heighten the political discussion of what revolutionary work means in this historical moment. The Kasama blog wrote a critique of Fire Next Time’s flyer regarding the bus strike in New York as it was not clearly explaining what communist work means in the present. What we found missing from the Kasama critique is a proposal for how to relate to the unions in a way that is communist. The ultra-left critique of Trotskyism is this issue on unions is ignoring value, the essence of capitalist social relations. Ultra-lefts charge trotskyist of reproducing and managing value, as appossed to moving towards its negation. This movement, that some call communization, is stuck in a similar position as Kasama, as it can’t translate macro concepts such as value, communism, and communization, within real day-to-day class struggle situations. They are stuck in the abstract and cannot, as of yet, concretely explain what communist work (Kasama), or what communization means in day to day practice regarding the immediate tasks of political work that relates the class struggle and unions.

Luxemburg and Lenin were the first to seriously do this after Marx, this being an untapped theoretical/practical potential point of convergence. Luxemburg and Lenin were the first to develop a revolutionary Marxist practice, concretizing Marxist theoretical categories. Yet historically, they have been violently separated by the crystallized ideologies of the Marxist left; uncritically committed to limited traditions that have now faded into retirement. Just as labor and production were separated forming alienation in Marx’s 1844 Philosophical manuscripts, and labor and land were separated in Marx’s concept of the so-called primitive accumulation, Lenin and Luxemburg have also been separated creating an anti-organizational ultra-left that fetishizes wildcat strikes, or linear party builders in the name of Leninism. Both Luxemburg’s “The Mass Strike“, challenging the bureaucratic method of union political work in Germany, and Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” of building professional revolutionaries that insert revolutionary politics beyond unionism and economic struggles, are the two foundational works that can shed light on the union question.

LeninRosa

Advance the Struggle will continue to write on the relationship revolutionaries should have with unions in this unfolding public discussion. We encourage all revolutionary groups to also write out documents, or pinpoint existing documents that clearly lay out how revolutionaries should relate to unions. All serious comments from your part are studied and recognized with such seriousness on our part.

Trade Unions and Revolutionary Struggle in the United States

The two pieces posted on the web site of Advance the Struggle under the heading “The Problematic of the Union in the U.S. – What Is To Be Done?” are a definite improvement on other recent statements and articles from activists in and around the (greatly reduced) Occupy movement. Both AtS texts start with the affirmation of the need to defend the unions against attacks by capital and the state, in contrast to the arguments of supporters of the Black Orchid Collective in the Pacific Northwest who have vociferously opposed calls for defense of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Those arguments were raised in a dispute that broke out in a “port working group” in Portland last November when comrades of the Internationalist Group put out a leaflet calling for defense of the ILWU and raised this as one of the basic points for solidarity action. This was in the face of the employers’ offensive aimed at gutting basic union gains, such as the hiring hall, and preparing to bring in scabs to bust the ILWU, the bastion of West Coast labor. Our stance was ABC for any Marxist, but those who objected were anarchists and liberals. Basically the arguments against us cited betrayals by the ILWU bureaucrats as a reason not to defend, and possibly to oppose, the union, for example in the article by Pete Little, “One Year After the West Coast Port Shutdown,” in CounterPunch (21-23 December). We responded in an article titled, “Why We Defend the ILWU and All Workers … Including Against the Sellout Labor Bureaucracy”.

The AtS pieces are grappling with one of the key issues facing communist revolutionaries in the U.S., which has been fought over for decades. While making a number of valid points, both pieces are basically empirical where what’s key is the overall theoretical understanding and programmatic conclusions. Both locate the problems with unions in their structure, and in the elaborate web of legal restrictions woven by the bourgeoisie to contain workers’ struggles. Therefore, they focus on alternative organizational vehicles as the solution, whether “class-wide organizations” or “revolutionary cells” in the unions. This misses the key point, that the failures and betrayals of key labor struggles are due at bottom not to union structures or capitalist laws, but to the lack of revolutionary leadership capable of overcoming those obstacles.

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Introducing “The Magical Blue Pamphlet”

Capital and Today’s Crisis by Raya Dunayevskaya

Magical Blue Pamphlet

Click Here to touch 5MB of the magic! (Blueness not shown.)

Millions of workers have been laid off since the 2007 crisis, creating a new political world where turbulence is to be expected in the coming period.  A new generation of activists has been reading Karl Marx’s Capital to understand our changing contemporary political reality.  This new political reality demands a political theory to explain and help transform it.  Who is building a revolutionary framework for this process?  The contemporary revolutionary left is largely an extension of 1960s Trotskyist and Maoist groups, fighting for correct leadership over movements, or anarchist and insurrectionist currents, trying to set a spark to the dry wood of the people.  Are these our only revolutionary political options? Raya Dunayevskaya, great but generally-ignored Marxist theorist, was at one point Trotsky’s secretary but later broke from and critiqued Trotskyism through the Marxist method.  Well-known Trinidadian co-thinker CLR James (author of The Black Jacobins on the Haitian slave revolution) has overshadowed her, and she is often dismissed as a cult leader.  One day, a member of Advance the Struggle found a Dunayevskaya pamphlet that AS militants informally labeled “The Magical Blue Pamphlet” (MBP).

It is often assumed that Marx’s Capital is a work that explains Capitalist economics.  And it does, but to reduce it to that ignores the revolutionary fire built into the text.  Raya recontextualizes Capital by demonstrating how it embodies the experience of revolutionary movements; this provides a direct challenge to theorists like famous Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, whose “vulgarization of Marx’s analysis of the dialectical relationship between production and its reflection in the market” Raya smashes on in “Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital.”  One of Dunayevskaya’s central points is that capital is not a thing that oppresses us but a relationship we are subjected to.  She explores how the American slave revolts and the Paris Commune formed and deepened Marx’s understanding of capital, summarizes the three volumes of Capital as a singular political unit of revolutionary logic, then finishes the pamphlet by exploring the Russian revolution.

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Mike Davis on California’s Crisis and the Need for Cadre Groups

This is a transcription of Mike Davis’ speech and closing remarks at the ISO’sMike DavisSocialism” conference which took place in San Francisco this summer.  We’re posting it here cos we know some local activists that couldn’t get into the talk . . .

About the speech: Mike rightfully calls out the Democratic Party for enabling the gutting of social services despite their majority in Sacramento.  So many folks in progressive orgs, unions, etc are caught up in a paradigm that accepts the Democrats as the party of the people, and Mike smashes on this illusion.

Also, he brings up the fact that social movements alone cannot rise to the challenge of combatting the crisis.  The missing ingredient is fresh cadre organizations.  Here’s a snippet and then the whole speech:

“Even if you say that the whole legacy of Leninism was a historical disaster, you’re still faced with exactly the same questions posed in Lenin’s What Is To Be Done. That is, the need to create some organization of organizers that provides a framework for young people willing to make extraordinary sacrifices and dedicate their lives solely to the fight of the poor and the working class. The need organize a cadre of people able to exchange and generalize and coordinate experiences across the struggle so that some kind of genuinely left agenda–which means a pro-working class agenda–becomes possible.

The Bolshevik Party may not be the only route to this. The anarchists in Barcelona did a pretty good job in a different way of bringing together and coordinating a relentless struggle for their principles and the principles of the working class.

But the question is inescapable. You have to talk about this question. You have to talk about the creation of organizations. I’m not arguing to revive the little red book or the thoughts of Leon Trotsky, but we need organizations that can allow such dedication to exist.”

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Prachanda Steps Down

In the latest turn of events in Nepal, it appears that Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda, or Pushpa

Prachanda Steps Down

Prachanda Steps Down

Kamal Dahal, as he is also known, has resigned. In recent weeks things have heated up in Nepal, with Prachanda’s dismissal of Army head Rookmangud Katawal. Prachanda dismissed Katawal for continuing to recruit for the Nepalese Army and for refusing to integrate 19,000 Maoist fighters currently restricted to United Nations monitored barracks following a peace accord.

The resignation of Prachanda may come as a surprise to some who have been eagerly following the events in Nepal. However, this may not be such a surprise if we examine the nature of the state in Nepal.

Some claim that the situation in Nepal has been one of “Dual Power,” meaning that the Maoist bloc in parliament represents an a direct challenge on the bloc of landowners and politicians aligned with the former monarchy and of course, its armed wing the Nepalese Army (formerly the Royal Nepalese Army). In order to understand whether or not the situation in Nepal represents Dual Power, it may be worth examining the roots of the term – it was a phrase coined by VI Lenin during the course of the Russian Revolution of 1917.  Now, the point here is not to be dogmatic and say something like, “if Lenin said it it’s right!  And if anyone doing anything that differs in any way is wrong!”  Rather, the point is to examine what the concept of Dual Power meant in practice – in the course of events which gave rise to the theoretical concept.  This helps us to get clarity on the application of the concept to the events in Nepal.

Lenin wrote: “What is this dual power? Alongside the Provisional Government, the government of bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing—the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.What is the class composition of this other government? It consists of the proletariat and the peasants (in soldiers’ uniforms). What is the political nature of this government? It is a revolutionary dictatorship, i.e., a power directly based on revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the people from below, and not on a law enacted by a centralized state power. It is an entirely different kind of power from the one that generally exists in the parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republics of the usual type still prevailing in the advanced countries of Europe and America. This circumstance often over looked, often not given enough thought, yet it is the crux of the matter. ”

The people and the People’s Army were Prachanda’s only real power. These bases which served to bring down the monarchy disappeared long ago with the dissolved councils and with the allowed enclosure of the people’s army into UN barracks…