Thursday, 22 April 2010

Happy birthday Lenin


April 22 was the birthday of Russian Marxist Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to the world as Lenin.

Lenin was the founder of the Bolsheviks (later the Communist Party) and became president of USSR as a result of the 1917 October Revolution. The success of the Bolsheviks in founding the world’s first socialist government won wide support for Lenin’s ideas on how a socialist party should be organised.

But as an advocate of the overthrow of the social and economic order, Lenin was always going to be a hate figure for defenders of capitalism. Today the mainstream view (shared by many on the Left) is that Lenin was a dictator who, if not quite as bad as Stalin, certainly paved the way for him.

As for Lenin’s idea on party organisation, these are often seen as a blueprint for dictatorship, both within the party and in any country unfortunate enough to fall under Communist control.

Lenin’s fans – including UNITYblog – hold a different view. We remember that Lenin argued that “democracy is indispensable to socialism”, that he wanted “every cook” to help govern the new socialist state. That the Russian Revolution failed to achieve this goal, we argue, was because of many factors beyond Lenin and the Bolshivik’s control.

What about Lenin’s theory of party organisation?

The fundamental point was that revolutionary socialists / Marxists should form their own parties, independent from the “reformists” who rejected the idea of revolution, believing instead that the problems of capitalism could be solved through gradual reform.


Abandoning Leninism?

In the Western countries, a number of the most most well-known Leninist groups appear to be abandoning Lenin’s principle of an exclusively revolutionary organisation.

Broad Left parties such as Denmark’s Red Green Alliance, Portugal’s Left Blog and German’s Left Party include revolutionary and non-revolutionary groups and individuals.

In France the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR – one of the world’s biggest Trotskyist groups) dissolved itself in order to establish the broader New Anti-Capitalist Party.

Over in Australia, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) has also dissolved itself into the Socialist Alliance, which includes revolutionary and non-revolutionary socialists.

Here in Aotearoa, Socialist Worker is one of several socialist groups who traditionally identify as “Leninist”. But we are also advocates of a broad left strategy and hope to see the formation of a “new workers party” or “broad left party” that includes not only reformist socialists, but also opponents of neo-liberal economics who are not socialists at all.

This raises some big questions about Leninism and its relevance today:

Have the former members of the LCR and the DSP have abandoned Leninism? Does it matter?

What is the role of revolutionaries and Marxists within these broader reformists (or not explicitly revolutionary) parties?

Was Lenin wrong to advocate organisational separation of Marxists from other socialists? Or was this idea right at the time, but not now?

Over the next month or so UNITYblog will examine the problems of Leninism in the 21st Century.

We will start by posting several international articles from Marxists in the Leninist tradition who have taken a new look at Leninism, before sharing the views of leftists (both Leninist and not) from Aotearoa and elsewhere.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

"a “new workers party” or “broad left party” that includes not only reformist socialists, but also opponents of neo-liberal economics who are not socialists at all" has already been trialed in Aotearoa.
It was called the Alliance. Within a few weeks of the party's formation the Alliance's leadership opponents of neo-liberal economics who were not socialists at all took resolute measures to expel the Leninists from the organisation. It is rumoured that the rump of the Alliance still exists somewhere, if you're giving the revolution away why don't you guys just join that?

Don Franks said...

Here we have the question raised about the relevance of Lenin's legacy in a few lines, alongside the image of Lenin in a silly party hat holding a balloon.
Well, it looks to me very much like Socialist Worker have made up their minds on this issue.

In the early '90's, former CPNZ member Ray Nunes rang alarm bells about the party jettisoning Marxism and selling out the revolution. At that time I defended the CPNZ, because I thought their political moves were in the best interests of advancing international proletarian revolution. As it turns out, Ray was more onto it and if he was still alive he would be able to say Don I told you so and he would be right.

To abandon dialectical materialism for unity with anyone who is against neoliberalism is wiping your arses with the hard work and sacrifice of several generations of revolutionary toilers.

As the previous poster on this list says, you may as well join the Alliance.

As I say, you are tossing our traditions down the toilet and are a disgrace and thank goodness there is another generation of younger revolutionaries who are stepping forwards to pick up the mess you have left.

Grant said...

Your account of discussions with Ray Nunes doesn't ring true to me, Don.

You're suggesting that Ray had the foresight to predict the political evolution of a group of socialists through mergers, splits, tacks and turns, 20-odd years into the future. Not only does this stretch credibility, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

If Ray really did detect trends in the CPNZ in the early nineties which would later lead away from Marxism, why did it take so long for them to manifest? Which CPNZ members were promoting those trends at the time - are they the tiny minority left in Socialist Worker today? That would be a truly amazing coincidence! What other political predictions can be made 20 years into the future? Did he say who the prime minister would be in 2014?

I appreciate that you do not agree with the political direction of Socialist Worker. That's why you're in a different party. But I think your case would be better served by arguing the points on their merits, rather than what looks like creative re-imagining of the past.

Socialist Worker is not abandoning dialectical materialism. We are carrying on Marxism as a *living tradition* - just as Lenin did, brilliantly, in his time and place.

I'm sure you are well aware of Lenin's famous comments at the start of State And Revolution, about revolutionaries being converterted into icons, whose names are hallowed after they die, while the substance of their revolutionary theory is blunted and distorted. We in Socialist Worker are not going to get locked into that kind of false idolisation of Lenin.

"Question everything", said Marx. That's what we intend to do.

Don Franks said...

" You're suggesting that Ray had the foresight to predict the political evolution of a group of socialists through mergers, splits, tacks and turns, 20-odd years into the future."

Grant, anyone who reads what I wrote can clearly see that I'm suggesting no such thing. I'm saying Ray Nunes made an important wake up call at a specific point in time.
I'm referring to what is historically down on paper. In his pamphlet entitled "Apostles of treachery" and other similar writings, Ray Nunes made no grandiose claims for 20 years ahead. Going on what was before him at the time he accused the CPNZ of abandoning the path of revolution. Let anyone interested re read Ray's documents and make up their mind about how well the thrust of his argument stand up today. I can provide all the documents for anyone interested.


" What other political predictions can be made 20 years into the future? Did he say who the prime minister would be in 2014?"

No, of course he did not. Introducing that sort of schoolboy debating trick stuff into a political debate is just being bloody silly and wasting time.

"Socialist Worker is not abandoning dialectical materialism. We are carrying on Marxism as a *living tradition* - just as Lenin did, brilliantly, in his time and place."

I don't think you are.
How, specifically, in terms of dialectical materialism, do you justify the replacement of a revolutionary party with a cross class alliance party extending membership to the various vague nebulous opponents of 'neo liberalism', specimens of who can be found even in the reactionary camp of NZ First?
How, in terms of dialectical materialism and plain old fashioned international working class solidarity do you explain your nationalistic campaigning of "Kiwis" against "bad Aussie banks"?
How , in terms of Marxist analysis do you justify your replacement of scientific class terms with the constant use of the deliberately woolly term "grass roots people"?
Not for the first time I ask what class/es does that term stand for, and what has changed for you to abandon the analytical terms that have served and still served serious revolutionaries as a means of weighing and examining social contradictions?

How can you claim to be using dialectical materialism when you've thrown the tool box out the window?


"I'm sure you are well aware of Lenin's famous comments at the start of State And Revolution, about revolutionaries being converterted into icons, whose names are hallowed after they die, while the substance of their revolutionary theory is blunted and distorted. We in Socialist Worker are not going to get locked into that kind of false idolisation of Lenin."

I expected you to raise something in that vein. I don't idolise Lenin. I disagree with some of the things he said and did. I do, however, considerably respect his extraordinary international legacy as a towering revolutionary figure. Just as I would not depict Rosa Luxemberg in a tutu, neither would I photoshop Lenin to wear a child's party hat. What is the point of that? Political images are not chosen randomly. To me it looks like you are putting some previously fun childish thing aside before getting on with the grown up business of the day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Don,

No doubt you’re glad I didn't use the one with Karl Marx with a lampsahde on his head.

The Lenin-in-a-party-hat (and Marx with lampsahde) is cropped from a well-known image "Communist Party" which shows Lenin Marx, Stalin and Mao all enjoying themselves with ballons, silly hats and streamers.

As far as I know, It's popular with socialists and non-socialists alike, as antidote to the idolisation and "cult of personality" around those leaders, not only in the countries they ruled, but also among their many sincer followers worldwide.

I chose it for several reasons:

More austere images of Lenin are strongly linked in my mind to the idea of Lenin as an idol beyond question.

Making fun of an authority figure can open up space for critical discussion, which is my intention. I feel that this picture may help cut through the unhelpful duality of Lenin as a idol beyond question or a dictatorial hate-figure. I want to promote debate on Lenin’s legacy, from a wide range of Leftist perspectives.

And also it was his birthday!

Now that you’ve shared your views on what you think Socialist Worker’s and UNITYblog’s views on the Lenin are, I hope you will also share your own views on the relevance of Lenin’s theory of socialist organisation today.

Oliver Woods said...

Don, sorry to burst your self-righteous sectariann bubble, but the picture of Lenin in a party hat is a popular 'meme' (virally popular image or video shared by people on the Internet). Indeed, I know many Marxists who own t-shirts with the image on it and share the image humorously on and off the Interet.

It's great this debate is happening and Socialist Worker are openly confronting the ugly sectarianism far too often prevalent in the New Zealand left. Without working with non-revolutionary left-wingers, the Leninist Left will have precisely zero influence on politics in New Zealand (rather than, let's say, 25% in a wider coalition).

My advice to you all is to ignore the handful of abusive Internet warriors like Don and others in the WP and elsewhere. To them, Marxism isn't ideology, it is theology. They are the only true Marxists, and you cannot touch their scripture nor their religious icons (a la the Lenin comment above).

Grant said...

As you know, Don, some of the questions in your latest post have already been addressed elsewhere (eg. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheSpark_Discussion/message/2724, and in private correspondence).

And no-one is suggesting that Socialist Worker should become a "cross class alliance party" (in the traditional Marxist sense, of including representatives of the working class and capitalist class) - even though, in a novel twist on received Marxist wisdom, the Nepalese Maoists have successfully used temporary alliances with the bourgeoisie to advance their socialist revolution!

But I had wondered what Ray Nunes might have been saying about the CPNZ in the early 90s.

As you also know, this was a period of radical change for the party. Volumes of internal bulletins, running to thousands of pages, were required reading for the discussion to reorient the party.

It was not plausible, to me, that Ray could have attacked the CPNZ for abandoning Leninism, when the reading, and the CPNZ Constitution adopted in late 1993 near the end of the process, were all about going "back to Lenin".

My suppositions on what he might have said were based on the little of his published work that I have read, such as "Stalin - A Balanced Assessment" [1997]. I wondered if he was attacking the CP for going over to the Trotskyites, and therefore (in his view) abandoning Marxism.

In my experience, the Workers Party of today has many valuable insights on many topics. But the accuracy of the analysis from some in the party, when it comes to Socialist Worker, is consistently poor.

This is not surprising, when the two groups have their historical origins in a party split. I don't know many divorced couples who can even agree on the reason for the break-up, much less talk rationally about the other's life choices afterwards. You may well feel that SW is equally inaccurate about the Workers Party. My only reply would be that we tend to be less vocal in our pronouncements on that topic.

But I do have faith in the power of rational discussion among well-meaning comrades, to cut through misunderstandings. And that does mean re-visitng the causes of the split, through earlier accounts of it.

So if you've got that pamphlet "Apostles of Treachery" in a format that's easy to send, please flick it my way. Although, with a title like that, I'm not expecting a dispassionate analysis, I am very interested in reading it.

Let me make a recommendation in return. It comes from a comrade of yours, who said I should read Paul Le Blanc, author of several works revising and re-casting Leninism for today. The comrade in question was particularly interested in rethinking the concept of "the vanguard party". I hope to post some reflections on Le Blanc to the UNITYblog discussion.

'Cos the thing is, debates like the one we want to publicise on UNITYblog are happening across the Marxist left. Including inside the Workers Party, among the young comrades who, as you say, are stepping up to the plate.

Grant said...

A little Googling has turned up one (and only one) reference to "Apostles of Treachery":

"In his booklet Apostles of Treachery, Workers Party founder and chief ideologue Ray Nunes summed up the party’s thinking:
'Let us put it in the form of a simple equation: Stalinism = communism, therefore Hate Stalin = Hate communism’ (pg 41) "

Now that statement was made in different times. I know that most Workers Party members today would reject this equation. But defending Leninism on this basis today, Don, is simply not viable.

Despite having my suppositions apparently confirmed, I am still very interested in reading the pamphlet, to see *what else* he had to say.

Those of us with a little knowledge of NZ's communist history understand that splits (eg between CPNZ and SUP in the 1960s) are sometimes debated out in terms (eg. loyalty to China versus the Soviet Union) that disguise the roots of the *actual* differences. And these superficial debates can be re-evaluated, in later years, to bring out valuable knowledge for the struggle for socialism.

Don Franks said...

"It was not plausible, to me, that Ray could have attacked the CPNZ for abandoning Leninism, when the reading, and the CPNZ Constitution adopted in late 1993 near the end of the process, were all about going "back to Lenin"."

That is what I understood the party intention to be at the time. To me, Lenin stands for international working class revolution. What has happened with SW has been a steady process of discarding that legacy. Today, the party will not even argue for the concept of "socialism" Daphne Lawless has said in print that struggle's now in the too hard basket.
Yes, Ray's criticism was mixed up with a defence of Stalin and I don't agree with that part of it. However, his overriding intent was to defend and advance the cause of international proletarian revolution. Reducing that goal to tailing a thoroughly collaborationalist nationalist capitalism document from the CTU is a shameful and wasted end to the CPNZ resurgence of the early 90's.
I will get you a copy of Ray's document and if you want to we can discuss its essential ideas.

Joe Davies said...

Hi. As I understand it, Lenin would have encouraged Bolsheviks to engage with and participate in all sorts of broad left coalition type organizations of the popular front kind, even if they were essentially liberal or even reformist, rather than revolutionary.

But he would not have dissolved the Bolsheviks to do so.

The other things that I think should be brought in to this discussion are Lenin's (and incidentally Marx's) views on nationalist/colonial struggles.

Lenin used his comrades' perception of these struggles to gauge their genuineness - Rosa Luxembourg famously failed the test when she rejected the Polish struggle against the Tsar as a distraction from the class line.

Similarly, Marx judged his colleagues by their attitude to the Irish struggle for national liberation. English comrades who dismissed it were labelled "social-chauvinists" who in effect supported "their" national bourgeoisie against the Irish proletariat.

Here in occupied Aotearoa, we have a struggle for national liberation by Maori.

I think I know where Lenin would have lined up. What do others think?

Joe Davies

Comrade Alastair said...

"And no-one is suggesting that Socialist Worker should become a "cross class alliance party" (in the traditional Marxist sense, of including representatives of the working class and capitalist class) - even though, in a novel twist on received Marxist wisdom, the Nepalese Maoists have successfully used temporary alliances with the bourgeoisie to advance their socialist revolution!"

Grant, this is a very pointless comparison. Firstly and most obviously, the UCPN (M) is leading a revolution in a country that is semi-feudal, semi-colonial and very backward. The tactics necessary to advance the struggle there are totally different to the tactics necessary here.

Secondly, the Maoists have only ever formed alliances with sections of the ruling class at a time when the ruling class was in crisis and they could use these alliances to win a decisive victory against the section that posed the main threat. For example, their alliance with the bourgeois democratic parties against the monarchy after Gyanendra dissolved parliament in 2005. They didn't call for a coalition with those parties before then, they went to war against them! They have only formed these temporary alliances in situations where they can concretely win victories for the revolution in doing so. That is in no way comparable to the situation in New Zealand, where SW waters down it's Marxist politics and hides behind reformist, cross-class front groups like RAM. That has not advanced the struggle at all.

Thirdly, the Maoists in Nepal are a mass movement of millions of people. The bourgeois democratic parties in 2005 had hundreds of thousands of supporters they could put on the streets. This was a genuine united front that was formed for real reasons - it meant something. When you are a mass movement, forming tactical alliances can change the course of your country's history. In New Zealand, when a tiny group like SW sets up a front group like RAM to try and make itself more palatable to bourgeois liberals, that doesn't have an impact on anything other than the credibility of SW.

"Here in occupied Aotearoa, we have a struggle for national liberation by Maori."

Where? Where is this mass movement of Maori for national liberation? New Zealand barely even has a workers movement, and some of the leading sections of the movement that exists are Maori. If you talk to a Maori SFWU member on a cleaning site I kinda doubt independence for a Maori 'nation' is her number one priority.

If Lenin was in New Zealand, he would be rationally and soberly analysing the situation to prepare himself and his organisation for long term work building a revolutionary party. We need to do the same - there are no shortcuts, either through liberal front groups or tail ending the Maori middle class.

Comrade Alastair said...

//It's great this debate is happening and Socialist Worker are openly confronting the ugly sectarianism far too often prevalent in the New Zealand left. Without working with non-revolutionary left-wingers, the Leninist Left will have precisely zero influence on politics in New Zealand (rather than, let's say, 25% in a wider coalition).//

Oliver, be serious. Are you seriously suggesting that the SW approach of watering down and hiding your Marxist politics to hide behind liberal bullshit will lead to Leninists having influence over a quarter of the New Zealand electorate? The methods of SW and the WP were tested in the last elections, and RAM's 'grassroots political tsunami' turned out to be more of a ripple.

Regardless of the ideological issues here - your approach *doesn't work*! WP got more votes than RAM on an explicitly revolutionary platform. While we don't go round bragging about our tiny election result, it does prove wrong the idea that pretending to be a liberal reformist will win you more support. Workers aren't stupid, they can tell when they're being lied to, and the SW approach is utterly contemptuous of our class.

//My advice to you all is to ignore the handful of abusive Internet warriors like Don and others in the WP and elsewhere. //

Oliver Woods, dedicated working class fighter that he is, is accusing Don Franks of being an internet warrior? I must have stepped into a parallel dimension.

//To them, Marxism isn't ideology, it is theology. //

No, to us Marxism is a science, a toolkit, a guide to action. It's something we display openly and aren't ashamed of. If refusing to abandon basic principles like class struggle and communist revolution makes me a theologian, I'm proud to be one.

//They are the only true Marxists, and you cannot touch their scripture nor their religious icons (a la the Lenin comment above).//

Don is over 60 years old. Are you really surprised that he isn't up to date with modern internet culture?

We have never, ever, ever, ever claimed anywhere at any time that we are the 'only true Marxists'. This is just silly. The point is that we are openly and proudly Marxist, and we don't hide it behind liberal front groups a la SW.

David said...

Grant’s comments on Nepal are not “pointless”.

They make the important point that socialists are more likely to find success if we are prepared to challenge “received wisdom” and make our tactical and strategic decisions based on what we think is necessary to advance the struggle.

The Maoists in Nepal have used temporary alliances with “sections of the ruling class”.

Socialist Worker has never advocated such a thing here.

As Alastair notes, the conditions are very different.

Lenin’s Russia however, was like Nepal, “semi-feudal” and “backward” (though not colonial). Yet the Bolsheviks, unlike their Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary rivals always opposed any kind of alliance with “sections of the ruling class”.

The the tactics of the Nepali Maoists therefore represent a major break with Lenin’s practice, even though the conditions they face are much more like those in Russia 100 years ago.

But when it comes to this country, even questioning the dominant interpretation of Leninism results in a cascade of “bullshit” from those who claim to stand for rational and sober analysis.

Grant said...

In my line of work, I'm responsible for the care of people with "fixed, false beliefs". These are defined as beliefs, not in keeping with cultural norms, which are not amenable to change through the presentation of evidence and the application of reason. The clinical term is "delusional".

In politics, the term for an organisation which selects, misinterprets, or distorts facts to fit a preconceived theory is "dogmatic".

The belief that Socialist Worker is "moving away from"/"betraying"/"rejecting"/"hiding", etc. the politics of "socialism"/"Marxism"/"dialectical materialism", etc. has been a script rehearsed by the Workers Party since it was founded. And before that, it was the consistent view of Workers Party forerunners such as the Anti-Capitalist Alliance, Revolutionary Workers League, Revolution Group, and the Workers Party "Mk. 1". The song has remained the same, as Don Franks has reminded us above, for around 20 years, or even more.

You would think that an organisation that really was consistently "moving away from" Marxism for that long would be to the right of ACT.

Be that as it may, for people suffering either delusions or dogmatism, the consensus is that debating their beliefs is usually unhelpful.

So I really have only one point, and one question, to raise.

The struggle for socialism, like the last single released by The Beatles, is a Long And Winding Road. I'm very impressed with the Nepalese Maoists, for example, as I believe they demonstrate this very well. Here in Aotearoa, I don't think anyone has found the map yet, so a bit of sobriety and humility from all parties is called for.

And my question is this:

Imagine someone new to activism in New Zealand. A young person, perhaps, or someone older who's been drawn into a delegate role in their union and become politicised that way. Now look through the eyes of this person, at an organisation which publishes a journal called "Unity - A Marxist journal for grassroots activists", and which in the last 12 months has organised a conference called "Marxism Alive", a speaking tour which "resurrects Marx's analysis of social change" (according to its own publicity, which went on to quote the bearded one himself), and which has co-organised a second speaking tour on "Revolution in Nepal".

Now ask yourself, would this new activist believe that Socialist Worker is an organisation which "hides" its Marxist politics? Well, would they?

Comrade Alastair said...

//Lenin’s Russia however, was like Nepal, “semi-feudal” and “backward” (though not colonial). Yet the Bolsheviks, unlike their Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary rivals always opposed any kind of alliance with “sections of the ruling class”.//

You've explained in that paragraph why that was. The reason Maoists (for most of the 20th century) have called for tactical cooperation with sections of the national bourgeoisie in semi-feudal, semi-colonial countries is because in the context of imperialism there are sections of the bourgeoisie that are oppressed by foreign capital and can be united against the imperialists.

Russia was not a colony of any kind, it was an imperialist power and a prison house of nations. So there was no section of the Russian bourgeoisie that could be potentially won to the revolutionary cause, and no need for a national liberation struggle by the Russian people.

//The the tactics of the Nepali Maoists therefore represent a major break with Lenin’s practice, even though the conditions they face are much more like those in Russia 100 years ago.//

The conditions are really not like those in Russia at all.

Anonymous said...

"Now ask yourself, would this new activist believe that Socialist Worker is an organisation which "hides" its Marxist politics? Well, would they?"

What would this mythical new person make of the now defunct SW front VAN, which specifically decided not to raise socialism in its campaign? Or RAM, which was 'neither left or right' and consequently led to the frustrated walk out of SW comrades who objected to this? Or the pathetic hand wringing appeals to the National party prime minister, or the declaration by Daphne Lawless, in a SW speech to Australians that the "S" word was no longer good currency?
They might correctly conclude that SW is now indistinguishable from the Alliance, and that its "marxist politics' are now, to use a nautical expression,'not required on voyage'

Grant said...

Anonymous postings on blogs and internet forums are full of rumour and misinformation. Sadly, the previous comment is no exception. Where to begin?

1) VAN is not defunct. Our next meeting, for anyone who is interested, is at 2pm on May 22.

2) VAN is not a "Socialist Worker front". Non-aligned members of VAN have gone on record to affirm this. See, for instance, the section headed "Socialist Worker and the broad left coalition", here: http://unityaotearoa.blogspot.com/2008/04/in-van-guard-building-broad-left.html

If "Anonymous" is in the Wellington region, and is willing to work with tolerance and respect for other viewpoints, then she or he (I suspect, he) is welcome to come along and see for himself how SW comrades actually work in a broad left, democratic formation. He can email me for meeting venue and time. My contact details are g_brookes at paradise, etc.

3) Socialism *was* raised in VAN's election campaign. In the written candidate statements, mailed to every home (in some ways the most important piece of campaigning, as they're used by most voters to decide who to tick), I declared plainly that I was standing as a socialist.

4) Was RAM "neither left nor right"? I happen to know where this rumour originated. The facts are these. RAM used a number of terms to describe itself. One of which was "broad left party". I was the co-leader of RAM's candidates group in 2008. At no stage did anyone in any position within RAM say that we were "neither left nor right". I know what was actually said, on one occasion by one RAM person, which was misheard (to put it charitably), turned into this sectarian fable and entered into the written record by one activist group.

5) I wasn't at the 2009 "World At A Crossroads" conference in Sydney, where Daphne Lawless spoke. But given the litany of factual inaccuracies above, I think anyone could be forgiven a little scepticism about the report from "Anonymous", especially as I'm fairly certain he wasn't there, either.

I'm interested in any response that "Anonymous" might be able to offer to these points - especially if he's willing to drop the cloak and own up to his own opinions.

David said...

Daphne’s talk from World At A Crossroads is here on UNITYblog, so let’s see what was in her notes:

"For example, back home sects yell at RAM [Residents Action Movement] because we don't use the word "socialism". IT'S ONLY A WORD. It's not magic. I defy anyone to read RAM's programme and tell me that it's not pointing the way to a post-market economy. We don't use word socialism because workers don't know what it means any more.

"Different strokes. Socialist Alliance here uses the word. In France, they've decided they've got space for an anti-capitalist broad party, not just anti-neoliberal. Good on them. Hope it works. But we make our own calls.

"SW believes that broad parties will wither and fail if they don't have a committed source of revolutionary ideas, strategy and practice. But – and this is really important – Marxist groups are doomed to wither, fail, turn in on themselves, become useless sects with no hope of relevance, if they're not right at the centre of broad popular movements reaching out to workers and all the oppressed and making practical action right here and right now. And if those movements don't exist, we have to help make them happen."

Full link: http://unityaotearoa.blogspot.com/2009_04_01_archive.html

Daphne said...

I happen to have my speech from 2009 on DVD, and I'll put it on YouTube if it's now becoming legendary proof of the perfidity of Socialist Worker. I've seen this interpretation before, peddled online by the Australian RSP, an organisation which is rapidly descending to Spart-style levels of sectarian bile and negativity.

I stand by my actual comments, as expressed in the notes which Dave posted. "Socialism" is a word, but not a magic one, and one which doesn't mean anything to the vast majority of the actually existing NZ working class. The belief expressed here, that the use or otherwise of the word "socialism" can turn a short shopping list of reforms (such as the WPNZ's 2008 election manifesto) into a stirring and principled call for revolution, is not materialist Marxism at all. It's cargo-cultism.

Grant's points about "fixed ideas", "dogmatism", mindless repeating of baseless rumour because we read it on the internet and because it fits our preconceptions it's gotta be true, are excellent.

Anonymous said...

"we don't use the word "socialism". IT'S ONLY A WORD. It's not magic. I defy anyone to read RAM's programme and tell me that it's not pointing the way to a post-market economy. We don't use word socialism because workers don't know what it means any more."

Luke 22.60

Don Franks said...

Daphne has a point. Maybe not all, but certainly many workers don't know what 'socialism' means. Not all that long ago, when I regularly sold SOCIALIST WORKER on the street, it was quite common for workers, especially younger workers, to ask "what's socialist?"
However. my reaction to this was not to think, gee lets lose 'socialism' and get a logo workers will immediately understand. Instead I saw the fairly frequent question as a fine opportunity to talk about workers running society.
Which is not the same thing as a 'post market economy' How many workers would know what the hell that means - I don't.
If you do really want socialism the very least you can do is stand up in public and argue for it.

Joseph said...

I accept that I'm something of a 'Johnny Come Lately' to this discussion. I would like to contribute by trying to draw together two threads of thought from different discussions; the discussion at hand on Leninism, and a discussion at 'The Spark' on Lindsay German's resignation from the British SWP. There Don stated

'One (sic) one level, I'm sorry to see the SWP falling to bits. They are quite a big part of recent socialist history.

As an active member of the IS tendency for some years I was repelled and eventually driven out by the negative side of things. There was a top down arrogance in the SWP. There was, from some British comrades, a colonialist attitude to New Zealand comrades. There was, in the SWP , an incredibly blinkered and ignorant attitude to third world struggles not led by bonafide Trotskyists.

With all that, there was much useful marxist scholarship, consistent strike support work, many fine historical and cultural articles and some hard cut to the chase class analysis of current events.

It can be seen now that the SWP was never going to do the job as advertised. The thing now is for aspiring marxist revolutionaries to try and learn something from their many weak and strong points'

I think these comments from Don are very perceptive. They fit with my impression of and experience with the SWP over the year I have lived in London and campaigned alongside them in organisations such as Unite Against Facism. I've attended their branch meetings and have met some very fine, principled activists in their ranks.

I would however, add to Don's criticism of the British SWP the tired, defensive dogmatism espoused by the party. The kind of dogmatism that stifles debate, entrenches the central committee and separates them from their rank and file comrades, and leads them to expel members rather than accept difference of opinion on issues such as united fronts. The sick dogmatism that leads to treating other leftists (take your pick, from Anarchists through other Troskyist parties to the Labour Party) as more of an enemy than the bourgeoisie (sound familiar to anyone in NZ?) . It also leads to the attitudes and behaviour described by Don above.

I don't believe for a moment that the SW in New Zealand are attempting to discard or disguise our Marxism. I see this process of questioning Leninism and attempting to understand and analyse a similar questioning of Marxist-Leninist fundamentalism across the international left as essential to avoiding the stagnant dogmatism that the British SWP has sunken into.

All of the greatest thinkers and most successful organisations have possessed an ability to reflect on their practice/praxis. Our revolutionary tipuna certainly possessed that ability, and I'm confident that that ability and desire makes the NZ SW a stronger, rather than weaker, revolutionary organisation.

Daphne said...

To the above anonymous weirdo: Matthew 23:27

Don, we DO stand up in public and argue for socialism. For example, in the quarterly journal which I sweat blood over. But a strategy for mass action here and now in the 21st century requires that socialists do something other than "argue for socialism". We believe that building a real mass movements of and for the workers and broad masses ("grassroots", to use the word which drives your party insane) requires a different set of tactics than selling a paper on a street corner, and recruiting to a tiny organisation one-by-one.

We have had successes and failures - but we keep trying to apply the transitional method, rather than falling into an old Second International "maximum-minimum" trap. Isn't that what most of the "Marxist" left in this country is doing - abstractly "arguing for socialism", while at the same time getting involved in trade union disputes and reformist political campaigns, without connecting the two?

Some might say that all the "Marxist" left in practice is indistinguishable from the Alliance, except in the flavour of its rhetoric - because there is NO CONNECTION between the ideology and the practice, which in itself is the antithesis of Marxism. Socialist Worker is attempting to refound Marxism for the 21st century by practical attempts to build a mass left-of-Labour movement, rather than a "revolutionary party" which is in practice nothing more than a left-reformist pressure group which talks about socialism in the same way that a Christian talks about heaven.

Of course we have made mistakes and failures. It's much safer just to do what Marxist groups have done since 1968 or even before. You can build quite a vibrant little sect that way. But that's all you can do, as history has proved time and time again.

Lastly, Don, if you really think "workers running society" is a different thing than "a post-market economy", why don't you contribute an article or letter on this to UNITY? I would love to hear what you think about the collapse analysis as presented in Grant Morgan's long article - it has been a while, I think, since anyone on the left in this country tried to actually create a Marxist analysis, rather than applying pre-formed cliches and categories from the past (or from overseas ideas applied mechanically).

Don Franks said...


”
Don, we DO stand up in public and argue for socialism. For example, in the quarterly journal which I sweat blood over. But a strategy for mass action here and now in the 21st century requires that socialists do something other than "argue for socialism". We believe that building a real mass movements of and for the workers and broad masses ("grassroots", to use the word which drives your party insane) requires a different set of tactics than selling a paper on a street corner, and recruiting to a tiny organisation one-by-one.”

Daphne, with respect, recent SW stabs at mass action over single issues havn’t built anything tangible. In Wellington, SW has shrunk over the reformist periods of anti GE, RAM, GST off food and stuff like that.
History shows that mass actions tend to rise up spontaneously and what they can do with when the shit comes down is a sure and steady compass, such as a Marxist group can provide. Sure, we do sell on street corners – last Saturday 2 of us sold 11 Sparks in one hour in Newtown, got several donations and had good conversations. We also study Marxist classics at each weekly meeting, make interventions into struggles, run campaigns and do regular critical analysis of all that activity. That activity is building up a lively solid group of dedicated young activists
“Isn't that what most of the "Marxist" left in this country is doing - abstractly "arguing for socialism", while at the same time getting involved in trade union disputes and reformist political campaigns, without connecting the two?”
Well, that’s not we do. See above, and look out for our soon to be released analysis of the $15 campaign. We strive to act in the mass movement as communists, not as armchair socialists – or union functionaries.

“Lastly, Don, if you really think "workers running society" is a different thing than "a post-market economy", why don't you contribute an article or letter on this to UNITY? I would love to hear what you think about the collapse analysis as presented in Grant Morgan's long article “
As you can see on your own lists I have tried more than once to engage Grant Morgan in debate on his recent theories and he stays silent.
I must say I do think "workers running society" is a different proposition to " a post market economy". The first is an active inspiring image that i often use in street agitation, the second, to me is suggestive of academic seminars about societal 'models' that might be applied from above by important people.

Philip said...

Dave C wrote: "The the tactics of the Nepali Maoists therefore represent a major break with Lenin’s practice, even though the conditions they face are much more like those in Russia 100 years ago."


No, Dave. They don't represent any break. Russia, like NZ today, was an imperialist country, albeit a fairly backward one. Nepal is a Third World country. Lenin, Trotsky and the Third International always held the view that in the oppressed nations, struggling against imperialism, it was permissible to make *limited agreements* with those sections of the national bourgeoisie which might be in opposition, temporarily, to imperialism.

The Nepalese Maoists are actually pretty orthodox in that sense.

They're also pretty orthodox in the sense of favouring a post-revolution multi-party state. The Bolsheviks favoured that originally, but found that most of the other parties engaged in the counter-revolution and therefore were suppressed. However necessary that may have been in Russia in the civil war period, it is not something that we want to repeat; it is not a norm of Marx or Lenin, although that particular necessity was turned into a virtue by Stalin and his heirs. The Nepalese Maoists are gettng back to Lenin, Trotsky and Marx on the democracy issue. Back to being orthodox, in that sense!

What we're seeing in Nepal is an imaginative and creative use of Marx and Lenin; this is quite different from SW's wholesale abandonment of both Lenin and Marx.

The abandonment of Marx, which to me is even more crappy than SW's abandonment of Lenin, is obvious in *everything* - and, yes, I really do mean *everything* - you folks produce on economic stuff whether it's infantile and puerile Keynesian nonsense about "bad banks" or deluded Keynesian nonsense about taking GST off food and bringing in a financial transactions tax and supporting the CTU leadership's "alternative economic strategy".

SW's sectarianism is also remarkable. While we were happy to collaborate on the Ben Peterson tour, and we are happy to collaborate with SW (or anyone else) on the basis of principled politics, your sectarianism primarily consists of the fact that while you advocate Alliance politics, in fact you publicly advocate politics somewhat to the right of the Alliance, you maintain a separate organisation. Essentially, you should merge with the Alliance on the basis of shared Keynesian economics, wanting a broad party and not wanting Lenin.

That way, any remaining Leninists in SW, plus the few Leninists who are still in the Alliance, can come and join WP. Then all the Keynesians will be in the Alliance and most of the Marxist-Leninists can be in WP.

In that situation things would be nice and consistent and we couyld probably work together on a number of things. We wouldn't be frustrated by your continual dumbing-down because you folks would be openly Alliance Keynesians - which is what you are for all practical purposes in reality - and not pretending to be Marxists. We've no problem working with genuine social democrats around what limited areas of agreement we might have over particular campaigns.

But please, stop pretending that, in practical terms, your economic and political positions and approaches have anything to do with Marx or Lenin (or Trotsky, for that matter).

Philip Ferguson

Philip said...

One short question:

Do you folks in SW ever critically reflect on your political work?

From what I've seen, you never seem to. Before critically reflecting on Lenin, maybe you should critically reflect on RAM and why your "political tsunami sweepingh the country" (as Grant Morgan used to put it) was such a fizzer.

I know it's probably not as exciting and sexy as a big discussion about abandoning Lenin, so wouldn't neatly fit your framework, where everything haqs to be hyperbolic, but it might serve you better.

Phil

Anonymous said...

I think "Phillip" might have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed today :-)

Anonymous said...

I think that 'Anonymous' should actually try and respond to Phil's points, rather than posting a stupid little one line attempt at humour.

I doubt we'll see much of a response though. It's always struck me as ironic that while SW love to go on about left unity, broad parties encompassing a wide range of views and so on, it doesn't tend to respond to criticisms.

We have SW stuff being put on the Spark discussion email list by Grant Brookes and Grant Morgan fairly regularly, and this almost always receives a critical response. But I don't think I can remember a single time when the great Prophet of Impending Doom aka Grant Morgan has responded to these critiques.

Grant Brookes, to his credit, has responded a number of times. But SW as a whole are strangely reluctant to publicly debate their positions.

Grant said...

OK, so this may be my last comment in this thread. When agreement about basic facts breaks down, then the grounds for constructive debate are probably gone.

"while SW love to go on about left unity, broad parties encompassing a wide range of views and so on, it doesn't tend to respond to criticisms".

There are 29 comments on this article. 12 of them are responses by SW, coming from four different members. So the claim above appears to me to fly in the face of plain facts.

It is true that Grant Morgan has not responded here, or at any other time on this blog. Nor has he responded on the Spark discussion list.

This is because he is not a member of the Spark discussion list, and therefore cannot post to it. And he doesn't have a Blogger account either so he can't post to UNITYblog (you might notice that not only has he never posted a single comment, he has never posted an article either).

Grant Morgan has publicly debated his views, though, for example at a recent public meeting in Wellington which comradealastair was invited to.

Socialist Worker is thoroughly consistent in its approach to broad Marxist unity. This year, we have worked jointly with the Workers Party, ISO and Socialist Aotearoa on two projects (the Nepal Revolution speaking tour and the $15 minimum wage petition), we are working with the Alliance on the tax justice campaign, and we will be working with some Socialist Aotearoa members in the upcoming local body elections.

There is no socialist group in this country working more broadly at present.

Will Workers Party members and supporters in the Hutt Valley join us, and get involved in our broad left local body group?

Grant said...

And - more to the point - will the Workers Party reconsider its refusal to work with Socialist Worker, the Alliance and others on the broad left tax justice campaign??

aberfoyle said...

The last time i was a member of any political pary was back in the
eighties,that was the S.U.P.Tore my card up as they accepted the direction from the motherland,that of Gorby.No debate just blind party adherance.

In those days the party consisted of small groups of dedicated communists,not a trendy word then and definatly not one today,yet the latter would be less persecuted today, as when i was a member, as our leaders held powerful posistions in the union movement, and unlike today,the workers were fully unionised, and the party was under 24 state survalance.Thats not to say that lefty lefts are not now.

21st,n.z. is in no state of radical change,yes there is hardship and suffering more so than that of the seventies eighties and nineties.that has developed from the progression of capital and more importantly from the deunionisation of the workers,especialy our youth.Who, not only from casualsation in the work place, but also a social shift in compassion and value.

Yet the lefty lefty parties as by this blog, are still at on anothers throats.Yeh happy birthday Len,been a while the song still the same.terd

Don Franks said...

" will the Workers Party reconsider its refusal to work with Socialist Worker, the Alliance and others on the broad left tax justice campaign"
Grant, 'broad left justice campaign' sounds nice.

So why would we not want to help?

Because its no use to the international proletariat.

Because it's a timid opportunist plea for justice under the capitalist system.

Because it does nothing to dent that system in any way shape or form,

Because it holds up the false illusion that there can be justice for workers under capitalism.

Because it willfully understates and diminishes the potentially powerful position of workers under capitalism and sells them short.

Because the class struggle is not about "tax justice"
Tom Skinner used to try and try to and tell us that before he was knighted but he was wrong.

There are more reasons but that will do for now.

What is your response?

Joel Cosgrove said...

What an intriguing discussion.

David said...

Yes, it was interesting, although the topic ended up being Socialist Worker, rather than Lenin.