Dec 7, 2006

Stan Goff on the Crisis of Authoritarian Socialism in the U.S.

Stan Goff, Special Forces militarist turned Marxist, has put out a new piece critiquing Marxism-Leninism (M-L) concepts and models as a way of building revolutionary movements. His critique centers on the centralizing and rigid traditions of M-L politics, contrasting them with more decentralized and experimental forms of organization and resistance.

I came across this piece while viewing the blog, Red Flags, a Maoist oriented blog that is a fellow political traveler to the Revolutionary Communist Party. While I have no political sympathy with most of Red Flags politics, I can appreciate the blog administrators attempt to stimulate discussion and debate around revolutionary ideas and practice. Red Flags is also a fairly non-sectarian blog although many of it's more consistent commenting vistors are unabashedly authoritarian and uphold the Stalinist tradition as a model of politics.

Goff's piece, while aimed at the Marxist Left, is worth reading by those coming from the libertarian tradition for it's asking how to bring "an effective politics of resistance into being".

From the article, Doctrine by S. Goff

It is the organizing principle of the "Leninist Party" that still carries the day, democratic centralism, and the method inhering in that organizational model, which requires "the line", which I have come to believe is responsible not merely for a failure of the left to gain a consistent foothold among the broad masses, but which is - more significantley - an illusion that "the left", as we define it, is the only appropriate vehicle to carry out the transformation of society. This illusion is shared by many elements in what we widely call the left, that "correct ideas lead to correct practice", yet we have never questioned the whole notion of correctness, with its hubristic assumptions of cookie-cutter universality...

By and large, we remain trapped in the development paradigm, which still fails to grasp energy physics as the zero-sum game that it is, and establishes goals that would leave the masses at the mercy of machines and bureaucrats. This has not only led us to remain insular; it continually leads us into competition for people and resources with more organic efforts that have more traction and relevance than the projects flowing out of our DC process, making a fetish of collectivity, and stifling individual initiative and the creativity that goes with it.


the burningman said...

Thanks for recognizing RedFlag's intentions even while you disagree.

One thing I would note is that I am not an authoritarian, and have fought authoritarianism consistently throughout my life. I don't know a single person who posts to my site who is "unabashedly authoritarian," unless that term simply means "not an anarchist."

Revolutionary communism is about bringing the great mass of humanity into the ownership and administration of their lives. The old dispute about the state, and whether it is "authority" that is the "root" of the problem won't get solved here, or online.

One other note: communists are not anti-anarchist and have no desire to obstruct anything you are attempting to do. In fact, we wish you all luck and success in your endeavors. No joke (and the more "authoritarian" you think different groups are, the more likely they have this basic orientation.

Anyway, I appreciate the article your wrote a while back that started this blog off. I completely agree with your basic orientation that:'

"[T}here is no guarantee that political opposition to global capital will coalesce around a radical liberatory alternative. There is another opposition emerging - a reactionary neofascism that aims to overthrow the current capitalist hegemony and institute a radically different oppressive social order. This leads us to conclude that we are in a three way contest where the faultlines don't conform to a simple "Us" and "Them"."

While you may view revolutionary communism as some form of incipient "neo-fascism," you would be mistaken – and I hope we continue to find ourselves on the same side of the barricades.

RX said...


I was perhaps a tad bit too hasty on some points and too vague on others – I was rushing with the post. It's late and i may do the same here but let me say a few things nonetheless...

First, I should have said that while I have strong disagreements with aspects of MLM in theory and practice, I have sympathies with Red Flags attempt to foster needed debate and the reconsideration/revisiting of revolutionary ideas. What has attracted me to your blog is your own openly critical posts of the RCP even though it is clearly evident that they have been a point of reference in your political development. You even state at places on your blog that you exist on their periphery. Such openness is a freshness not usually exhibited on the “Left”.

Next, I don’t consider “revolutionary communism” to be the enemy of anarchism or an incipient neo-fascism. Without going into all the @ist vs. commie stuff (which I see as being, at times, based less on a historical understanding of socialism and the differences within it, than sectarian idiocy) I think there are real differences over mass and cadre organization, the role of the party/ideological structure in relationship to the mass, centralization, etc etc… but we all do ourselves a disservice by exaggerating or minimizing these differences. We need constant analysis and exchange of ideas. Although, to be upfront, the threewayfight idea is at it’s core a critique of politics that create hierarchical relations. Fascism has brutalized millions, but so has “communism”. Despite it’s promise, revolutionary “communism” namely it’s Stalinist/post-Stalinist variant had solidified new class relations in the societies where “socialism” was the political framework. Stalinism did not appear from the sky. While it can be argued that it was the product of specific conditions, as a libertarian I would see it’s development as a result of trends within Bolshevism and before that the cult of Marx. There is a lineage that continues back and I feel that it is rooted in societal trends towards “the leader”. For me, the question is always how do we break down leader/led constructs and draw out the ideas that will lead to popular action, action that may lead to an epistemological break with what we got now. Part of this, as a revolutionary, is the constant asking of why did past revolutions fail and how did communism go from being an ideal of liberation to a politic that is viewed as an oppression. How do we not end up with more Stalin’s or Pol Pots or Soviet tanks rolling through Polish towns to root out strikers and organizers?

As for authoritarianism on your blog, it was less a reference to you than to other posters who are quite married to the notion of the strong MLM Party and speak in trems of revolutionary leadership, terms that within the MLM vocabulary denote top-down party relations.

My comment also was in reference to posters who identify as Stalin or J to the Oseph, once again a nod to bad ol’ Uncle Joe.

Anyway, I agree the old debate about the State or authority wont get solved here or online. That will only play out in practice. But perhaps such exchanges will lead to some new thinking on all our parts. Forward…

Francis said...

Hello all,

Right on to what rx said above.

This may or may not be the proper place, but I would be interested to hear Burningman's (and others') views on the similarities and differences between the threewayfight analysis and the developing RCP analysis of "christian fascism." I read Red Flags regularly, and respect it for the same reasons as rx, but from what I can gather the current concer with "christian fascism" seems headed in a different direction than where many of us are at in terms of the threewayfight.


the burningman said...

To Francis: I think the most obvious place to begin a comparison of analysis is with the Communist Party of Iran (Maoist)'s analysis of their responsibilities "in the shadow of war."


Regarding issues of "hierarchy" – Whatever historical idiocy has passed as water under the bridge, I think blaming revolutionary organizations FIGHTING bourgeois dictatorship for the very existence of a class structure is mistaken.

There are Marxist-Leninists who have learned nothing, no doubt about that. What distinguishes MLM is a materialist analysis of socialism, the (intrinsic) devlopment of a "bourgeoisie" within the state and political structures under socialism – and the need not to just provide "books and dentures", but to facilitate the conscious management of the masses of people in the administration of society.

While anarchists wish to do this, or as more often seems the case content themselves with what David Graeber called "avantgardes" in place of "vanguards," the issue is whether oppressed people need the weapon of political dictatorship (in the Marxist, not the liberal sense) to break down classes, lift the bottom up and break the tyranny of the "real."

Hierarchy is a fact, not a program. I think all kinds of hierarchies will always exist. We accept it without question when it comes to removing a brain tumor, but are supposed to think social change involving millions (and wars of position and ideas) somehow will spontaneously develop among the people?

I don't think so, and the rise of religious fundamentalisms is the best example that oppressed people do NOT spontaneously develop liberating ideas when "authoritarian" socialism is off the table.

Put another way: Anarchists should stop refering to communists as authoritarians as a matter of course. It is inaccurate, pejorative and confuses some very basic issues.

Anyway – readers of ThreeWayFight are always welcome to participate at Red Flags in a spirit of comradeship, however critical.

Anonymous said...

"Put another way: Anarchists should stop refering to communists as authoritarians as a matter of course. It is inaccurate, pejorative and confuses some very basic issues."

Sorry but No. I'm not confused about any basic issues. If you inherit you philosophy from Lennin, weather via Mao, or Trotsky or Joey S, you inherit the idea of the authority of a vanguard party.

It's interesting to note how much Stan's obersevations mirror Ron Tabor's obervations in "A Look at Lenninism". You should give that one a read.

The fact that the ideology even has a patriarcal "inheritence" and adherance to "lines" wether thoose are party's lines or a so-called "mass line" should be telling enough about Authority and "Authoritarianism".

The short loud and fuzzy G-dog

PS: RX can you email me? thks.

Anonymous said...

"Although, to be upfront, the threewayfight idea is at it’s core a critique of politics that create hierarchical relations. Fascism has brutalized millions, but so has “communism”."

Hmm, and yet, there are several 'unabashed' revolutionary communists (even M-L-M-ers) who share the three way fight analysis entirely. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the three way fight analysis on this blog was influenced _significantly_ by both Sakai and Hammerquist---actually I don't need to guess, I forgot, you link to them both in your side bar. I've heard Sakai in a roundabout way call himself a Maoist (I suspect he may not use the term 'Maoist', but I'm pretty sure he considers himself in the tradition of Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tse Tung thought).

So if 'three way fight's analysis is at it's core completely incompatible with communist (with or without scare quotes) or M-L-M thought (which may or may not be the same thing as 'politics that create hiearchical relations'), then what is the blog doing on day one linking to Sakai's stuff, which is in fact foundational to the analysis?

I think it's more complicated then that. Hearing and reading Sakai was in fact my own anarchist self's first introduction to smart communists. Since then, I've met and read a lot more. (Hint: But not from the RCP).

So it's more complicated then that.

Although, interesting enough, burningman's comments help me clarify where HE differs from anarchists (including myself) in a way that wasnt' clear to me from reading his blog. "Hierarchy is a fact, not a program. I think all kinds of hierarchies will always exist. We accept it without question when it comes to removing a brain tumor..." Interestingly enough though (and keeping things from being simple) is that many smart Maoists I've met disagree with this entirely. Hierarchy is indeed a fact, but most serious/smart Maoists I know see Maoism as being in part a program to do away with it. That was what the Cultural Revolution was theoretically about, no? "Theoretically", because it was in fact about many things, some more unsavory; but questions of how we accomplish what we want to accomplish, how we make actual revolutionary change (not just dream about it), while avoiding brutality, hiearchy, and authoritarianism---these are real questions, these are real problems, which anarchists are not immune to having to consider simply by being pure of heart.

I am an anarchist, but I only seldomly see anarchists take the problems of how to accomplish things and the problems that come about when trying to accomplish things as SERIOUSLY as the serious MLM communists I know. Contrariwise, MLM-ers can focus too much on how to accomplish things, and not enough on what should be accomplished and where it will go from there--I think the legacy of MLM nationalist revolutions of the post WWII 20th century should show the error in that. But at least they're taking things seriously. threewayfight is one anarchist forum that I think DOES take (some) things seriously, and it's not entirley coincidental then that many M-L-M-ers see common analysis (or played a role in developing threewayfight's!) I think serious anarchists make a mistake not to take serious communists (like, say, Sakai) seriously, and as potential comrades.


RX said...


I agree that hierarchy is fact, but it is a condition to be struggled against. Class society amplifies division, creates more, and has developed accompanying social/cultural frameworks that bolsters hierarchical relations. A revolutionary transformation (or at the minimum, its potentials) that is at it’s core humanist, non-sectarian, and libertarian has to be based on the developing of structures and projects (small and mass) aimed at collective action.

Sure, it is also fact that some folx have more experience to draw from, have skills at talking, connecting, and inspiring others, and fit well the idea of the "leader". But revs should always be trying to develop these traits in others. I think the more we adhere to the "leader idea" whether in terms of a maximum leader or a central committee, then the more we foster hierarchy and division between leaders/led, commanders/soldiers, the Party/masses. And while I think that anarchist ideas have been the most explicit in challenging notions of leadership and authority, I also know it has never been a subject exclusive to anarchism. Hell, Lenin would probably have been ashamed at having become a pickle put on display in Red Square.

As a libertarian however, it comes back to the question of why does cultishness and hierarchical division continue within the revolutionary movements given we have seen clearly their end results. My criticism of communism is not one of seeing communists as enemies or counter-revolutionaries or any such thing. It is however, an explicit rejection of command structures taken out of combat situations and applied to broader social life (this is even a critique of the Delo Truda Group’s anarchist Platform) and economic determinism as opposed to human agency. Unfortunately, “communism” (note parentheses) has not blossomed into the 100 thousand flowers that were promised. Why? We all know the answers aren’t easily found. And no proper form of “struggle” has emerged that clarifies a way forward – Marxist, anarchist, or “intergalactic”. To use a term sure to give some of my anarchist comrades the shudders, I think the dialectic is that none have succeeded and new forms of praxis must come from elements of the past. An essential here is the rejection of the leadership and authority cult.

As for threewayfight relating to MLM’ers, no doubt that there are several concepts swirling about that find themselves moving along intersecting paths. Being smart means giving up on dogamatism and sectarianism. But these intersections don’t mean, either, that differences don’t exist. But I’ll hold off on those for now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything in RX's last comment, of course. (And I know some Maoists that do too).

I personally, despite being an an anarchist who thinks that hieararchy is something to always be struggled against--think nonetheless that there is probably a need for cadre organizations. (NEFAC, for instance, is essentially a cadre organization. I have nothing to do with NEFAC personally.). I'm not sure, but I rather think so. Now, how you build a cadre organization (meaning an organization of committed revolutionaries--not a mass organization) while avoiding the various traps down that path (cultishness; sectarianism; elitism; lack of democratic honesty when participating in mass organizations)--this is the path to be found, indeed. I think it would be a mistake to think that there are not MLMers (now and in the past) attempting to find the same path. Failure is not proof of bad intentions. I think it's a frequent error of anarchists (and again, I am too an anarchist) to think that good intentions alone are enough, and will automatically save you from any potential trap, and therefore anyone that's not avoided the trap in the past must not have had good intentions. It's a dangerous mistake becuase good intentions are NOT enough.

That said, there are surely significant differences between even the most honest, smart, democratically-minded MLMer and a similar anarchist, indeed. Exactly what those are is not clear to me personally at the moment, as i've found that my previous anarchist stereotypes of MLM did not match the actual smart, honest, democratically-minded MLMes I have met.

Lastly, I'd just note, okay, "no doubt that there are several concepts swirling about that find themselves moving along intersecting paths," no doubt, but I'd note that of the documents you list in the Documents sidebar, presumably intended to be foundational readings for the three way right analysis, THREE of the five are by people I believe are MLM.


RX said...

short loud and fuzzy,
The posting of Goff's piece isnt, in my opinion, to say that anarchism is the answer. I don’t think that is the position that Goff comes too, despite his turn away from "Marxism".

For me the questions here are "how do we build a revolutionary movement in the U.S.". Goff feels that Marxism embodied by centralized "Party" structures has failed in this capacity and don’t relate to organic conditions and history here. He also seems to see the politics of these formations as antagonistic and in opposition to autonomous initiatives, which I think is often the case due to many organizations belief that they understand “Truth” and despite strategic collaborations, are unwilling to alter their concepts.

Goff's alternative? That can only be glimpsed in the following statement of his, "We have mostly ignored the laboratories for exactly these things, calling the 'utopian,' i.e., intentional communities; and we have looked on locally organized efforts to impact local politics as somehow less developed than we are...". He also posits "networks" as vehicles for revolutionary change. While I don’t necessarily disagree with him on the importance of localized and experimental forms of resistance or that more temporal organization may be better than the overly fetishized Party (or Federation for anarchists), if he see's this as the way forward, then I would have to say that's one avenue where I depart him - I have not been convinced that larger and, when possible, ideological organizations should be rejected. On the contrary, I’m quite in favor of political cadre organizations.

Unfortunately, by and large, anarchists have not been successful at creating and sustaining serious political organizations. We are good at bringing together fighting movements, but these are often reactive movements and their ebb’s and flows are tied up with whatever campaign were engaged in. Once the campaign ends many of our projects kinda go into hibernation leaving only a handful of militants thinking beyond what just transpired. I don’t want to denigrate these campaigns or the enthusiasm that it creates amongst their participants, but there are real limitations. One being that more informal, non-ideological groups, are usually unable to (or don’t see the necessity of) develop questions, perspectives, and approaches to a broader range of questions. This inability usually means that anarchists and other non-Party radicals just keep doing the same thing over and over again as if political terrain doesn’t change (which is what Goff says is also true of the Party types). I mean, the realties that may have given rise to a certain way of thinking and acting 10 years ago, may not be the same today.

Goff seems to be advocating a turn towards where some of us anarchists want to move away from.

Oh, yeah, and I just have to say it, while anarchism has sank into Crimethink/post-Crimethink, post-Black Block Guevarist clandestinity, reformist social democracy (ie. “class struggle anarchists” getting paid union staff jobs or with NGO's), or academia, it’s interesting that sometimes only the MLM’ers (and fascists of the Metzger school)have REVOLUTION and anti-system politics on their agenda.

RX said...


Ah, I have been found out! Your noticing of the Sakai connection to threewayfight ideas exposes our hidden MLM politics. Actually, in my case I have been referred to as an anarcho-Leninist more than on one occasion. But then again Lenin in 1917 was referred to as the new Bakunin by other Marxists (in insult). So I guess threewayfight’s own Left Marxist influences come full circle back to revolutionary anti-authoritarianism. HA!

In seriousness, some of the questions implicit in your comments deserve greater explanation than I can give at the moment. I think that the contributions to revolutionary antifascism that STO and the NightVision trend make need to be elaborated on.

NightVision as a document acknowledges a Maoist orientation. This orientation however, as Butch Lee consistently makes, is based on the fact that millions of people, and with Lee specifically, women, have found a method for creating revolutionary struggle against patriarchy, class relations, private property, domestication and slavery. NightVision, looking at the US in the late 1980’s saw radical anti-authoritarianism creating similar “peoples war” attitudes that were within the more radical struggles of communist militants on the global periphery. Unlike most of the communist groupings of the times, anti-authoritarian youth represented a cultural and political opening that was a real break with existing society, kinda the “intentional communities” the Goff speaks of, but militant and seeing themselves at war with the State. Anarchist youth experimented with collective living, subverion of geneder roles, and were creating alliances aimed at advancing revolutionary anti-system campaigns. NightVision and documents like Bottomfish Blues were well received by anarchists, whereas many MLM’ers (if they were paying attention) with the exception of maybe MIM denounced the authors seeming turn towards anti-authoritarianism.

As for STO, they were not MLM. In fact many of their founding and key ideological figures came from a CP or Trotskyite background, breaking with these politics and attempting to renew a Leninism that was influenced by CLR James, Gramsci, student/worker intersections in the 60’s US and in the French general strike of 68, and the Italian autonomia of the 1970’s. I think the assumed MLM connections is because STO later emphasized solidarity with Third World communists and anti-imperialists, movements that have also incorporated lessons from the Chinese and Vietnamese experiences.

STO would later develop new ideas on insurgent fascist movements in the US. This, and that a couple of ex-STO members joined Love and Rage, is where many anarchist antifascists ook notice of them.

More later…

the burningman said...

rx writes: "whereas many MLM’ers (if they were paying attention) with the exception of maybe MIM denounced the authors seeming turn towards anti-authoritarianism."

Aside from a note that MIM is not, properly considered, a political organization – this sentence is confusing to me.

Could you send me to any written criticism of Sakai (etc.) from any MLM organization? There is only one in the United States, and it was from a member that I first encountered this whole strain of ideas, particularly in the book Settlers.

Without digging all the way back into that one, the basic gist is simple: white people are incapable of forming any lasting allegience with any other people. No matter the conditions of their life, the position of European-Americans in a privileged strata has, and will continue, to make any popular revolutionary change in the USA impossible.

This is the undergirding of anti-imperialist politics in the USA (and in different ways in Europe) that refuses the political task of organizing among the multi-national proletariat... by denying that any such thing exists. (Tens of millions of white proletarians be damned!)

It places "solidarity," in effect, as the best white communists can do – and rejects proletarian internationalism in practice, and in distortion of theory.

At best, there are "allies." Never comrades.

Unsurprisingly, it is among various white anti-imperialist "ally" organizations that this analysis has taken the deepest root and found its inevitable applications. It was basically what the Weather Underground argued via the "fight the people" line.

The only organizations I'm aware of that "use" Settlers were (entirely) white, and very non-proletarian(!). I mean, supposedly socialist (or anti-authoritarian) groups that formed segregated organizations of middle- to upper-class whites, who then in turn denied a white proletariat exists.

Truly surreal to my delicate palette.

So, I guess the criticism of Sakai and this larger milieu predates whatever ideology that chose to identify with, and is related to their consistent analysis.

So, MLMers are paying attention – if not all that much. I'm not familiar with what RX is refering and would like to investigate that a bit. Please include a link (or reference) to the (hypothetical?) criticisms mentioned.

the burningman said...

An important note about MLM:

The basic political orientation is "revolutionary communism, proletarian internationalism."

This is distinct from "Third World Marxism," which is essentially a pro-Soviet analysis that denies class struggle under socialism (and the anti-Revisionism of Mao in particular).

It's also distinct from "anti-imperialism" of the "white ally" or Sam Marcy varieties. In both cases, the "anti-" orientation (essentially) subordinates class conflict with the imperial metropoles and "third world" alike.

MLM has distinguished itself from Marxism-Leninism of the older varieties, and developed as an articulated (if still forming) ideological framework in the 1980s.

The noteworthy document from the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement is here: