Sep 26, 2009

The legitimate critical review

excerpted from, Lenin, Leninism and some Leftovers

"The legitimate critical review

The fact that this was (the Russian Revolution) an immense struggle under extreme conditions and with major limitations on understanding and resources doesn’t adequately explain, and certainly doesn’t justify, the eventual outcomes. The historical fact is that with dismaying speed, fetishized and mystified organizational forms swallowed emerging capacities to elaborate a revolutionary practice. Instead of facilitating the emancipation and liberation of the oppressed and exploited, monumental piles of shit in Russia and around the world were the result. This outcome was not the unavoidable collateral damage from the struggle against “class enemies,” real and fabricated, and it was not the inevitable consequence of any “objective conditions.” To a significant degree, it was the result of policies and approaches which had available alternatives, and, while the mere existence of other options does not prove they would have been more successful in either the long or the short run, could the outcomes have been much worse?

To me it seems undeniable that responsibility for the degeneration of the Russian revolution rests on Lenin. Particularly on the Lenin that is not the insurrectionist revolutionary of 1917, but the architect of the revolutionary party in 1903 and the theorist of the worker’s state in 1921 and the NEP in 1922. This full legacy is complex and ambiguous, but only apologists and ignorant people deny that it has elements that undermine the democratic and autonomous popular movements and institutions that must be the substance of the struggle for communism. But this darker side of Lenin is also relevant to our current problems and potentials – relevant to many important questions where none of us have been inoculated against screwing up, and, in fact, have become quite good at it. Accordingly this side of Lenin’s legacy does not subtract from his historical significance, it provides additional reasons to take it seriously...

...So I want to deal with two partial strands of the history. In one, the distinctively Leninist elements are in opposition to the future Bolshevik degeneration. In the other, his positions are a significant contribution to the process. The first strand relates to inner-party life, specifically the issues of debate and criticism that are codified under the heading of democratic centralism. The second theme I take from the anarchist, Larry Gambone (apologies if I get any of it wrong) who stresses Lenin’s conflation of the concepts of centralization and unification, in a way that facilitates a reliance on mechanical and instrumental management techniques rather than the expansion of popular participation in a more organic and (dare I say it) more dialectical approach to the revolutionary process. I’m dwelling on these issues, not only because they have substantial intrinsic historic interest, but because I believe the questions involved and the range of inadequate answers to them, still plague us."