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."

Sep 25, 2009

Sketchy Thoughts: Drawing Lessons from Our Past - Lenin and Leninism

What can we draw from the past? And how do we draw things from the past? These questions, when you get down to it, are key to our project.

Lenin is a figure whose historic role was so major, that to think about him in isolation is impossible. We contextualize him whether we want to or not, in ways both conscious and unconscious. For some comrades he "has to be" one of history's good guys, for others he "has to be" one of its villains.

Atttempting a more nuanced view, and an appraisal of what we can learn - both good and bad - from the Leninism experience, Don Hammerquist has written an important length discussion of the Russian revolutionary and his legacy. Hammerquist has more experience than most of us in that regard, having been an important figure in the Sojourner Truth Organization in the 1970s. As Michael Staudenmaier tells us, STO was a

revolutionary group based largely in Chicago during the 1970’s and 1980’s. STO, as it is commonly known, created a small but vibrant political tendency around the concepts of challenging dual consciousness, opposing white supremacy, supporting extra-union organizing in factory settings, defending anti-imperialist and national liberation struggles, and building an internal culture of intellectual rigor and sophistication.
Over the next little while, i will be posting Hammerquist's discussion of Lenin, and responses from other comrades, on this blog and as PDFs on the Kersplebedeb website. To follow the discussion, just follow the Leninism label.

Don Hamerquist: Lenin, Leninism, and some leftovers

Tom Wetzel's Reply to Hamerquist

Noel Ignatiev: C.L.R. James on the Marxist Organization

Dave Renney: Scattered thoughts on the Leninist Party and Don’s Paper

Sep 3, 2009

White supremacists, protesters stick to different parts of the city

"GREENSBORO — The white-supremacist National Socialist Movement held a daylong business meeting Saturday in a location kept secret from counter-demonstrators who decried the movement’s racist ideology in a largely peaceful gathering downtown.

The movement’s “regional conference” occurred at a hotel in western Greensboro. The News & Record is not identifying the location at the request of city police, who fear violence if the group’s more aggressive foes learn where its members are staying through this morning...

Though small, the National Socialist Movement is like a number of other white-supremacy or white-separatist groups that are trying to attract new members from people who avoided extremist groups in the past but now are perturbed by the election of the nation’s first African American president, the economic downturn and such issues as illegal immigration"

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Sep 1, 2009

Health Care Mobs

From the Rustbelt Radical

The “reform” on offer goes nowhere to meet the concerns of advocates of genuine national health care and yet too many of the promoters of single-payer seem content to “fight the right” without realizing that means Obama. Obama’s “reform” proposals do much more to stop real reform than the idiocy of Rush since it silences advocates of meaningful reform by placing them in a camp they do not agree with; a camp whose proposals will codify many of the worst aspects of our health care system while claiming to be change.

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