Monday, December 10, 2012

Lenin on Marxism and Bourgeois Democracy by Thomas Riggins

In chapter seven of "'Left-Wing' Communism an Infantile Disorder" Lenin addresses himself to the ultra-left claim that socialists should no longer work with or be members of bourgeois parliaments. This may not be a very pressing issue for American (i.e., U.S.) socialists and it seems settled as far as other countries are concerned (as a result of widespread agreement with Lenin's views) but in Lenin's day there were many so-called Left socialists who supported boycotting all bourgeois electoral work. Lenin thought this totally incorrect.

The ultra-Left's position was that bourgeois democracy was historically and politically obsolete; the wave of the future was advancing worker's democracy in the form of Soviets and so all Marxist socialists must only work to build that future. Lenin's response to this is philosophically interesting and rooted in his reading of Hegel and his understanding of the latter's historicism.

Lenin had made a profound study of Hegel's Logic while in exile (among other of the German's works) and could not but have been impressed by the following passage in Hegel's introduction to his "Lectures on the Philosophy of History" (even though he thought Hegel had been completely antiquated with respect to most of his views on history by the work of Marx and Engels.) But the following Hegelian passage, I believe, still had meaning for him, and for us today as well.

 Hegel wrote that he wished to call his students "attention to the important difference between a conception, a principle, a truth limited to an ABSTRACT form and its determinate application and concrete development." An example would be that "all men are created equal" was an abstract truth, the civil war was a determinate application-- as was the later civil rights movement. That application is still working itself out.

Grasping that Hegelian principle we can understand Lenin when he agrees with the ultra-left that indeed bourgeois democracy IS historically obsolete.  Lenin says this is true in a "propaganda sense."  Capitalism has also been obsolete for over a hundred years, he says, it is obsolete today in that we know its contradictions, that it doesn't work and cannot feed the people and insure their future and we know that socialism is the answer and the only future available if humanity is not to perish but this ABSTRACT truth, from the point of view of world history, does not mean that its determinate application, its concrete development will not require "a very long and persistent struggle ON THE BASIS of capitalism"

Lenin says world history is measured in decades, indeed he could have said centuries (Napoleon saw the Sphinx looking down on him from 40 centuries): whether the concrete development reaches fruition now or a century from now is something indifferent to world history. Lenin was mistaken in seeing the revolutionary era of his day as the fruition of the social ideal just as we are wrong to see the globalization of the capitalist world market as the refutation of the social ideal which from the point of view of world history may be ushered in by a new revolutionary era which may even now be at the heart of the current world capitalist
breakdown and may take place in a decade or in 20 decades. For this "very reason," Lenin says, "it is a glaring theoretical error to apply the yardstick of world history to practical politics."

So, while in a technical sense the ultra-left is correct about the historical "obsolescence" of bourgeois democracy, the real question is, is bourgeois democracy politically obsolete? The answer to that is a resounding "NO!" The masses of working people participate in bourgeois elections and think in terms of bourgeois constitutionality and for Marxists to ignore that fact and refuse to engage in political work where the masses are is the height of irresponsibility. This mistake that is raising its head again in 1920 was already refuted and abandoned in 1918 by the German socialists. Both Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, "outstanding political leaders" opposed it in Germany and subsequent events have proven them to be correct.

Those parties today (1920) that are again bringing up this erroneous theory should
study the history of Marxism on this issue and admit their mistake. This is a most important principle for Lenin. When a mistake is made it cannot be papered over, ignored, denied, or explained away. How a party treats its mistakes is one of the best ways of judging how serious it is about its duty towards its CLASS and towards WORKING PEOPLE in general. A party that fails to admit and rectify publicly its mistakes is NOT a party of the masses.

The mistake of the ultra-lefts is failing to recognize what is obsolete from the point of view of Marxism-- from OUR point of view is NOT obsolete from the point of view of the masses. Granted then that we must work within the framework of bourgeois democracy so that we can influence the masses, Lenin stresses that we must not SINK TO THE LEVEL OF THE MASSES. The working people must be told "the bitter truth." That truth, which we are duty bound to tell the people, is that their allegiance to bourgeois democracy is nothing more than a "prejudice." Even so, we must also act politically with regard to the ACTUAL class consciousness of the working masses (not the class consciousness of the Marxist elements): if we don't, Lenin says we risk turning into "windbags."

Here I must mention an issue that was important to Lenin but is no longer applicable at the present time. One of reasons he was upset by the ultra-lefts is that some of them were in leadership positions within fraternal communist parties which were members of the Communist International (Third International). Lenin was convinced that his position on bourgeois democracy was correct and had been successfully applied in Russia and it was also the position of the International, which, he said "must work out its tactics internationally (not as narrow or exclusively national tactics, but as international tactics)…," and the rejection of his views by some members of the International amounted to abandoning the concept of internationalism even while giving lip service to it.

Today, of course, we have to be concerned with internationalism but there is no "International" to oversee and direct a unified program subscribed to by all the active Marxist parties. In fact, national tactics take a leading role everywhere. There are some regional groupings of Marxist parties as well some groupings based on particular ideological interpretations of Marxism, and some "go-it-alone" parties. This reflects the fragmented and ideological confusion that reigns on the left and is a major reason why more international meetings and conferences should be held with a view to creating some kind of consensus around international issues and how the national struggles in each country can relate to the movement  towards creating the conditions or preconditions for an international unified fight back against capitalism.

Another issue addressed by Lenin in this chapter is the relation between legal and illegal activities by the worker's party. All worker's parties are faced with this issue and all engage in some form of illegal activity. In the U.S. Marxist parties, for example, although they were legal parties, still engaged in illegal activities such as sit ins and illegal demonstrations during the civil rights movement , and various forms of civil disobedience in anti-war protests and marches. Lenin thought that as capitalism begins to breakdown and the workers become more militant the bourgeois state would crack down ever harder on the working class violating its own standards of legality.

As an example of ruthless persecution of working people he gives the example of the United States ("the example of America is edifying enough"). He has reference to the Palmer Raids and the espionage acts. It is also edifying to see the Obama administration dust off these old laws from ninety years ago to try and shut down whistle blowers and journalists (think of Wiki leaks). Socialist parties should be prepared to face savage persecution by the state as the class struggle intensifies. Paper tiger parties today will be treated as real tigers tomorrow if they effectively lead the workers in the struggle against capitalism.

Lenin stresses that before Marxists even think about repudiating working within bourgeois democracy there must be a revolutionary situation in which the majority of working people have lost faith in the bourgeoisie and are willing and able to advance towards the seizure of power and the establishment of a socialist state. People can talk revolution all they like and advocate revolutionary tactics all they want but "without a revolutionary mood among the masses, and without conditions facilitating the growth of this mood, revolutionary tactics will never develop into action."

Certainly in the U.S. there is no mass revolutionary mood [yet] and none on the immediate horizon and this must be taken into account by the left (as it has been in the pages of Political Affairs and other socialist publications- albeit with some confusion between tactics and strategy among those who have not kept their eyes on the prize). In Europe and other areas of the world the situation is different and various degrees of the "revolutionary mood" are rapidly advancing as the glacial melting of global capitalism speeds up a pace.

Lenin further notes that "it is very easy to show one's 'revolutionary' temper merely by hurling abuse at parliamentary opportunism" [i.e., bourgeois democracy] but tactics "must be based on a sober and strictly objective appraisal of ALL the class forces in a particular state (and of the states that surround it, and of all states the world over) as well as of the experience of revolutionary movements." A tall order, I should think, with many opportunities for error: all the more reason for more international conferences and even the creation of a new International.

So, the upshot of this discussion is that Marxists must work within bourgeois democratic institutions and it is childish to attack parties and socialist leaders who do so. The only justified criticism, Lenin says, is against those leaders "who are unable --- and still more against those who are UNWILLING --- to utilise the structures of bourgeois democracy … in a revolutionary and communist manner." The question that remains is: What constitutes a revolutionary and communist manner in the 21st Century?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lenin on "Reactionary" Trade Unions: Chapter Six of "Left-Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder by Thomas Riggins

One of the most difficult questions facing any socialist movement is its relation to the trade unions. Modern day trade unionism is an integral part of the capitalist system. It functions to further the interests of working people within capitalism by trying to get their commodity (labor power) paid for at the highest price possible in relation to its value. This price can be measured in wages as well as benefits wrested from the capitalist class by means of negotiations, demonstrations, work stoppages, sit ins, and strikes. Under capitalism unions qua unions are not revolutionary organizations. Some unions and union members are in fact even reactionary. In the U.S. for example about 40% of unionized workers voted for the Republican reactionary Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election.

In chapter six of his work "Left-Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder, Lenin address himself to the relation Marxists should have with the capitalist trade union movement. He refers to the trade unions under capitalism as "reactionary" because he was writing in a revolutionary period in which socialist as well as capitalist oriented trade unions both existed. This is not that time so I shall dispense with the term "reactionary" except in direct quotations.

At the beginning of this chapter Lenin notes that the ultra-Left in Germany consider it very revolutionary to condemn the German unions as compromising, nationalistic, and counter-revolutionary and that no communists should have anything to do with them. Lenin intends to give reasons why he thinks these ideas are wrong and are just a lot of "empty phrases."

Lenin will first make remarks about the situation in Russia. He does so to remind us
what the purpose of this work is --i.e., to apply "to Western Europe whatever is universally practicable, significant and relevant in the history and present-day tactics of Bolshevism." We may not find as many things today, ninety years later and in non-revolutionary conditions (but growing pre-revolutionary movements are afoot in the anti-austerity struggle and the fightback against the banks), as people in Lenin's day found but there still are some practicable ideas in Lenin's work.

One such idea is that as the struggle today intensifies Marxist parties will start to grow into larger and larger mass parties (as happened to the Bolsheviks after 1917) and many of the new members will be "careerists and charlatans" out to feather their own nests with no real dedication to the workers. Lenin says they only "deserve to be shot"-a la the Chinese Communist Party's response to extremely corrupt officials. This may be a little too "proactive" for our sensibilities these days, but we should be aware of such people and kick them out of the movement and warn the workers about them. If conditions become more revolutionary we can expect the working people to handle these types as they see fit.

Another point made by Lenin is really not so relevant in the current situation, but should still be mentioned in case the working class actually finds itself exercising state power in the future. That is the relation of the worker's party to the institutions of the state. We must not look at the state as some kind of independent institution that all political parties share in and whose main departments are headed now by one party, now another or a combination of parties. The bourgeoisie is an unnecessary parasitical exploiting class with no useful role to play in modern society except to oppress working people and exploit them. This class will no longer have a role to play in the political life of a state controlled by workers so no state institution will make any political or organizational decisions without consulting with and taking guidance from the worker's party.

With respect to the trade unions, Lenin says that the party "relies directly" upon them. Trade unions are formally non-party organizations but the party, in Russia (and presumably in any future worker's  state), actually controls the leadership positions in all the unions and the unions carry out the party line. There are millions of workers only a relatively small number of whom (the most class conscious) are members of the party. The trade unions are the vehicle by which the party keeps in touch with the working masses and keeps the class unified in its struggle to defeat the bourgeoisie and build socialism. Under capitalism the unions are not typically led by leaders committed to building socialism and thus the unions function to uphold bourgeois rule despite their struggles for better pay and working conditions.
Marxists should be in the union movement and hopefully get themselves elected to leadership positions by the rank and file. Marxists union members should be carrying on socialist education and agitation and explaining to workers why they will never be secure in their lives, jobs, or pensions under capitalism.

There are two main positions that the Marxists should push that will differentiate them from the opportunistic and pragmatic labor leaders. The first is to fight against the view that bourgeois democracy is the only form of democracy that should be supported. Direct worker's democracy, in whatever form it takes (worker's councils, soviets, etc.), should be the ideal. The second idea to fight is that the union movement should be politically "independent." In Russia that would have amounted to the workers having unions independent from workers political power running the state. In our pre-revolutionary situation the unions should support and be affiliated with political parties having a pro-working class agenda. An intellectually mature working class will have its own political party or parties reflecting working class values and led by working people themselves. In the U.S., I repeat, it is absolutely scandalous that forty percent of unionized workers vote Republican in general elections.

However, it is not sufficient just to maintain contact with the workers and the people in general through the trade unions. Lenin says that other types of non-party organizations have to be set up and institutions developed whose membership consists of workers and petty bourgeois elements who are not members of the party. In the West these organizations have been give the uncharitable name of "front groups" by the bourgeoisie. Their real purpose, according to Lenin, is to allow the party to understand the "temper" of the people and "to come closer to them, meet their requirements" and "promote the best among them" to leadership positions. This is a thoroughly democratic way for the people and the party to interact for the common interests of the working class and its allies.

In Russia all of this party work was carried out by means of the Soviets which Lenin
says are a form of democratic expression far superior to anything created by bourgeois democracy. While making these remarks Lenin also mentions exactly what type of workers rule is involved in the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" (DP). The DP is not a dictatorship of all the working people, or a dictatorship of workers and peasants. In Russia it is "a dictatorship of the urban proletariat" and the DP is meant to lead the agricultural population (a backward majority) towards supporting the rule of the urban working class. It has as one of its main functions to lead the mass of poor peasants  and to wage "a systematic struggle against the rich, bourgeois, exploiting and profiteering peasantry, etc." In the West of the 21st Century such a DP has no existential basis and would not make a good role model for the type of workers democracy required to establish socialism.

In Lenin's day such a DP was what was required. The Russian Marxists had arrived at these ideas after 25 years of intense struggle against the Russian feudalists and bourgeoisie and from their point of view the ultra-left antics of some German "Communists" and others of pitting "leaders" against the "masses" and advocating abandoning the trade union movement and also other forms of legal struggle sounded like "ridiculous and childish nonsense."

Lenin admitted that the old bourgeois craft unions and distinctions between workers are a legacy left to socialism by capitalism and that the trade unions too are riddled with bourgeois attitudes and prejudices. But he said this is the material we have to work with and it will take years and years of work to develop the industrial unions of the future which will represent whole industries  and lead to the abolition of the division of labor between people. This goal is the goal of fully developed Communism and in1920 only the first baby steps were being taken. Lenin warned that, "To attempt in practice, today, to anticipate this future result of a fully developed, fully comprehensive and mature communism would be like trying to teach higher mathematics to a child of four." This warning was another in the species of not trying to skip stages and prematurely try to bring about remote future possibilities. Perhaps all the errors of Soviet collectivization and also of the Great Leap Forward could have been prevented had Lenin's views been taken seriously.

Lenin here seems to reject the whole idea of "social engineering" and the idea of creating the "the new Soviet man." He says we have to build socialism with the type of people "bequeathed" to us by the capitalist system and not try to build it "with human material specially prepared by us." If Lenin's successors had followed this advice they would have been much more tolerant of the frailties of human nature and open to different ideas and notions of how to go about building on the foundations of socialism created under his direction. They could have avoided the paranoia and purges of the 1930s and 40s.

Reflecting again on the trade unions, Lenin remarks that they evolved out of the primitive isolation and disunity of the early working class and were an essential form of working class organization that developed to unify and unite workers and give to them class consciousness. Now it is the Communist Party which is the highest form of working class organization and which expresses the highest level of class consciousness and the trade union movement, born as it was under capitalist conditions has revealed that, compared to the revolutionary class conscious workers, it has backward tendencies related to narrow minded craft interests.

Lenin uses the term "Communist" in relation to the Party in a way which leads me to think he didn't really believe Communist parties had arrived at a stage of development where they deserved to be called "Communist." He says "the Party will not merit the name until it learns to weld the leaders into one indivisible whole with the class and the masses." I don't think that ever happened in the Soviet Union but the reasons for this failure to weld an indivisible whole are to complex to discuss here."

At any rate, whatever the limitations displayed by the trade union movement this movement was indispensable for the development of the working class and every capitalist country has produced trade unions which represent the interests of the working people in the economic contest with the capitalists. The unions will be necessary in the transfer of the management of the economic life of socialist countries to the working class, not to the separate unions, and eventually to all working people. For this reason Lenin calls the unions a "school of communism" that will be the training ground for workers in the building of socialism.

Nevertheless at the present time there are many backward attitudes and ideas floating about in the ranks of the trade unions and many of these attitudes will remain even if working people eventually gain state power. How should we deal them both now and in the future. Repression was not an option favored by Lenin. He says these backward attitudes are INEVITABLE considering the historical context in which the unions were formed. Not to understand this is to show complete ignorance of the role of the party. It would be "folly" to either evade this problem or try to "leap over it" [even a great leap won't work]. The role of the party is to educate and enlighten the backwardness that living under capitalism will inevitably imprint on large sections of the working people. The Party's job is to win the support of the masses and to maintain and extend that support through education and example. Obviously shooting people or sending them to the Gulag is not a good way to carry out that assignment. It will take many years of patient work and struggle to carry out that mission. Presumably the party that fails in this mission will not be around in the long run.

Paradoxically, Lenin thinks the labor leadership in the more advanced countries of the West are more opportunist and play upon the credulity of the workers than those in backward Russia. This is because Russia was going through a real revolutionary awakening and the the vast majority of the workers chose to follow the Bolshevik wing of the Marxist movement rather than the Menshevik wing which was opportunistic and social chauvinist. Lenin is particularly vitriolic when he refers to the Western labor leaders calling them "the craft-union, narrow-minded, selfish, case-hardened, covetous, and petty-bourgeois 'labour aristocracy,' imperialist-minded and imperialist-corrupted" leadership. This type of leadership has to be fought against and completely driven out of the trades union movement. Marxist trade unionists still have that daunting task before them.

Taking all this under consideration, Lenin warns that the attempt of Marxists to assume political power "should not be made" until the majority of workers are firm supporters of the Party. This stage in the struggle will vary "in different countries and in different circumstances; it can be correctly gauged only by thoughtful, experienced and knowledgeable political leaders of the proletariat in each particular country." It s thus still, it seems, the primary mission of Marxists to educate the working people and remind them that, while it is necessary to work in bourgeois trade unions, and to contest bourgeois elections (to hold off the right and protect the interests of the working class) these forms of bourgeois democracy are not a solution to the problems of exploitation, unemployment, and preventing war, and must be replaced with real democratic institutions based on working class political power. The faux democracy of the West is part of the problem, not part of the solution leading to human liberation from capital.

It is of course the case, Lenin says, that Marxists uphold the interests of the working people AGAINST the opportunistic labor bureaucrats ("the 'Labour Aristocracy'"). This is "an elementary and most self-evident truth." The ultra-left's error is to think that because some unions, or even most unions, in the West have a pro-capitalist  top  leadership that Marxists should abandon the trade unions and create ARTIFICIAL organizations to compete with them. This is infantile. The only way to help the workers better understand what the issues are is for Marxists to work in the labor movement with them and expose those "agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class movement."  Lenin particularly likes Daniel De Leon 's (the leader of the now moribund Socialist Labor Party) formulation: "labour lieutenants of the capitalist class."

Lenin maintains that Marxists cannot leave the backward workers to the mercy of these capitalist labor leaders or under the influence of those workers Engels described as having "become completely bourgeois." Lenin's reference is to a letter Engels sent to Marx in 1858 in reference to British workers. I'm going to quote it because, with a few slight adjustments, Engels' observations hold true for many workers  today in the West.

Engels wrote to Marx from Manchester on October 7, 1858 that, in effect labor leadership could move to the right, because "the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat ALONGSIDE the bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable. The only thing that would help here would be a few thoroughly bad years…." Well, the bad years are once again upon us, I hope we can make the best use of them.

With regard to the trade union movement, Lenin finds the ultra-left "Marxists" to be acting in a "frivolous" manner with regard to mass work. Their "ridiculous 'theory'" of not wanting to work in the union movement betrays a fundamental principle of mass organization which is  to WORK WHEREVER THE MASSES ARE TO BE FOUND. Marxists have a duty to work in the union movement and educate the workers by exposing the baseness and class collaborationist nature of the pro-capitalist labor leaders. The nature of this type of work has to be fine tuned and take into consideration the specific features of the working class and its history in each country but it cannot be ignored.

It is particularly childish of the "Left opposition" to demand brand new unions be set up with but one requirement for membership: accepting the Soviet system and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin says that the Communists have been running Soviet Russia for almost three years and it would be ruinous for them to make such a demand on Russian workers for union membership. "The task," he says, facing Marxists "is to CONVINCE the backward elements, to work AMONG them, and not FENCE THEMSELVES OFF from them with artificial and childishly 'Left' slogans."

Not only should Marxists work in the trade union movement, but In fact Lenin even favored Marxists, following the idea of being where the masses were, joining the Black Hundreds (the Russian KKK of the time) so as to win the backward workers and peasants away from the organization. I cannot, however, envision Leftists in the U.S. flocking to the Tea Party Movement to enlighten its working class members and win them away from the reactionary Republican party (however correct that tactic might be).

So much then for Lenin's views on the relation that a Marxist party should have with the trade union movement. I will next examine his views about working in bourgeois parliaments.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lenin on the Role of a Marxist Party in Relation to the People: Chapter Five of 'Left Wing' Communism an Infantile Disorder by Thomas Riggins

Lenin in 1920 made an analysis of the political conditions in Germany after the failure of  the Communist (Spartacus League) uprising in 1918.  The Communists had split into two rival factions. The issues facing the German Marxists were somewhat analogous to those facing the Marxist movements today especially in the industrial world.

This fact makes many of Lenin's observations of the conditions in Germany relevant to the struggles of today both in advanced  capitalist countries such as the U.S. (where Marxist political groupings barely make a blip on the radar screen), Europe (where Marxist parties offer viable alternatives to the status quo and have  elected representatives in parliaments, local government, and sometimes as ministers in bourgeois governments (perhaps a dubious tactic), and other areas of the world as well;  there is a world Marxist presence that is growing and maturing in face of the continuing decline and slow collapse of global capitalism.

The setting for this chapter is Lenin's reaction to reading a pamphlet put out by opponents within the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) to the tactics taken by the leadership (a familiar scenario): "The Split in the Communist Party of Germany (The Spartacist League)".

The basic position of the opposition is that the KPD leaders are opportunists for seeking to work in a coalition with the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). This tactic would later be known as the United Front.  This tactic is opposed by the opposition because it is demanding that the KPD stand for the creation of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and so must reject ALL compromises with other left groups and parties and abandon parliamentarianism (elections)  as well as working in the established trade unions . The KPD alone can lead the struggle and should create a new big revolutionary union under the slogan "Get out of the trade unions!"

The opposition claims there are now two communist parties in Germany: the opportunist KPD "a party of leaders" and the opposition "a mass party." Lenin finds these views to be "rubbish" and "'Left-wing childishness." He then to proceeds to examine the whole issue of "the masses" versus "the leaders."

The "masses" are divided into "classes" and we can make only very general statements about "classes" and there are always individual cases within a given class which the generalized statement will not cover. We should be provisional and not dogmatic.

In general, politically speaking, classes are led by political parties "at least in present day civilized countries" and the political leaders of a party are usually the most experienced and influential representatives of the class that any particular party represents. Lenin says this is elementary but nevertheless there seem to be some "present day civilized countries" in which the masses and the classes are not congruent -- especially where working people do not have highly developed class consciousness; i.e., in the United States, for example, most workers identify with two über-parties neither of which represent  the real interests of the working class.

In Europe, until recently (he means until the systemic breakdown of European culture and civilization called World War I) people were used to legal political parties and stable governments (at least in the "advanced" countries) and their political leaders were freely elected at conventions or party congresses.

With the outbreak of war and revolution parties and leaders found themselves proscribed or forced to combine illegal activities with legal activities. Some leaders had to go underground, open legal party congresses could not be held or had to be held abroad. In this era of turmoil some socialists and communists began to feel uncomfortable and to complain about undemocratic leadership and a separation of the leaders from the "masses." Lenin thinks it is this confusion in the heads of those communists who have themselves little experience of the conditions of functioning underground that has led to the ultra-'Leftism' he calls an "infantile disorder." Unfortunately, this disorder has begun to spread into more experienced cadres in parties that also have experienced conditions of illegality.

But in some parties, Lenin says, there really is a divergence between the leaders and the led. What accounts for this? The answer is to be found in the writings of Marx and Engels in the period 1852 to 1892 on the political developments in Britain. As the working class began to develop politically there "emerged", Lenin says, "a semi-petty-bourgeois, opportunist 'labour aristocracy'." These were those British labor leaders that went along with the bourgeoisie, compromising demands, and collaborating with the class enemy for narrow sectarian interests of their own craft or union and not working for the good of the whole class as a class.

In Lenin's day this phenomenon reappeared in the Second International where opportunist leaders (Lenin calls them "traitors") worked for their own craft and became separated from the great mass of the working class-- "the lowest paid workers." Lenin says, "The revolutionary proletariat cannot be victorious unless this evil is combated, unless the opportunist, social-traitor leaders are exposed, discredited and expelled." This advice is not, I think, limited to the "revolutionary proletariat." In general militant trade unionists  should keep in mind the needs of the working class as a whole and not distant themselves from supporting the struggles of other unions, non-union workers, and the lowest paid, nor should they be afraid to speak out when they see their own leaders engage in opportunist deal making with the bosses that may weaken the labor movement as a whole (sweet heart deals, no strike pledges, etc.)

The mark of Left Wing Communism (LWC) is, according to Lenin, when one advocates impossible to achieve goals in a given particular situation, bucks party discipline, and drives wedges between the masses and their leaders. LWC is the flip side of opportunism and class collaboration in that they both hamper the unity of the workers in the struggle against capital. Lenin was particularly incensed by those who claimed to be against leaders "in principle." These very representatives of LWC were themselves claiming leadership positions within the working class.

Lenin quotes one such ultra-leftist who wrote, "The working class cannot destroy the
the bourgeois state without destroying bourgeois democracy, and it cannot destroy
bourgeois democracy without destroying parties." Lenin says this type of muddle-headed "Marxism" is all to prevalent amongst people claiming to be Marxists who have never studied or tried to come to grips with Marxist theory. Merely calling oneself a Marxist had become a "fashion" in Lenin's day (it's not that fashionable now when even sympathy for some aspects of Keynesianism make you a "socialist.")

The idea of abolishing the party as part of the struggle against capital is ludicrous and would aid and abet the bourgeoisie. Lenin says, "From the standpoint of communism, reputation of the Party principle means attempting to leap from the eve of capitalism's collapse, not to the lower or intermediate phase of communism, but to the higher." [I amended this quote by leaving out "in Germany" after "collapse" because I think this quote has a wider sense (Sinn)].

Parties represent the interests of classes and even after the working class comes to power it as a class and other classes as well will remain "for years" and so will leaders. The working class cannot establish socialism by just abolishing the LANDLORDS and CAPITALISTS, these classes will be easily gotten rid of (!) after a revolution-- but the PETTY-BOURGEOISIE must also be abolished and Lenin says "they CANNOT BE OUSTED or crushed: we MUST LEARN TO LIVE WITH THEM." It will take a long era of re-education to transform this class and eventually absorb it into the class conscious working class-- a process that will be "prolonged, slow, and cautious." These unheeded words go a long way in explaining the many problems that arose in both the USSR and China with respect to the peasantry.

Lenin is referring not only to small business but basically to the peasantry. Advanced industrialized countries really don't have a peasant problem anymore (in this sense China is far from a really advanced country despite it phenomenal economic advances) but they do have small businesses and workers who own property (houses primarily) and/or are self-employed giving them a stake in the current economic system which Marxists seek to replace.

This petty-bourgeois element, especially where there is a large peasant component, "surround the proletariat on every side with a petty-bourgeois atmosphere, which permeates and corrupts the proletariat and constantly causes among the proletariat relapses into petty-bourgeois spinelessness, disunity, individualism [the Libertarian disease and Ayn Randian brain cancer are examples], and alternating moods of exaltation and dejection."

To overcome all this the workers need a party of their own with the "strictest centralisation and discipline." Without a Marxist party of this type the working class cannot carry out its PRINCIPAL ROLE  and mission which is ORGANISATIONAL -- i.e., creating the necessary structures for the creation of socialism and educating the masses to that end.

I must admit, looking at the conditions we have today it seems almost impossible to meet the requirements set by Lenin to carry on a successful revolution against capitalism. "The force of habit," he writes, " in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force. Without a party of iron that has been tempered in the struggle, a party enjoying the confidence of all honest people in the class in question [the working class] , a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, such a struggle cannot be waged successfully." Anyone who weakens such a party, or questions its "iron will" (or doesn't lead in its formation one might add) is objectively an ally of the bourgeoisie and against the working people.

Where do we find such a party today? In the entire Western Hemisphere only the Cuban party comes to mind. There are other parties, of course, earnestly strugglingto become such parties in different countries of the hemisphere and we can only hope they achieve the confidence of the workers Lenin seems to require. The Eastern Hemisphere shows mixed results and I have no wish to try and judge which ones are doing what. But it should be noted that the movement contra austerity in some European countries may excellerate the creation of such parties where they do not yet exist and reinforce already existing militant parties.

 This pretty much concludes what Lenin has to say about the relation of the party and its leaders have to the working masses and the errors about this relationship frequently mouthed by the ultra-left. A future article will try to explicate Lenin's views concerning Marxists and "reactionary" trade unions.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lenin on Anarchism and Opportunism

Lenin on Anarchism and Opportunism: Chapter Four of 'Left' Wing Communism An Infantile Disorder by Thomas Riggins

In chapter four of his book "'Left Wing' Communism An Infantile Disorder" Lenin describes the struggle of the Bolsheviks to combat those enemies of the working class movement who were themselves acting within that movement ostensibly in the interests of establishing socialism. Perhaps the term "enemies" is too harsh, but the factions Lenin writes about included within their ranks both opponents of the Bolshevik line (as being not historically appropriate) and hostile elements who actively collaborated with reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie.

In any case, Lenin considered the main enemy of the workers  to be what he called "opportunism"-- the placing of the real interests on the workers on the back burner in order to pursue temporary policies which might lead to some gains in the present but which actually damaged the long term interest of the workers. He was not referring to historically necessitated retreats and compromises, but to an attitude which consistently led to cooperation and capitulation to bourgeois views where matters of principal were set aside and the long term interests of the working class ignored. The trick, as always, is to be able to spot the difference between "opportunism" and legitimate "compromise."

After 1914, the outbreak of WWI, opportunism warped into "social-chauvinism"
with so-called Marxists siding with their national bourgeoisie against the bourgeoisie AND the workers of hostile nations. Lenin thought this kind of opportunism was the "principal enemy within the working-class movement."
Even in 1920 it remained the number one enemy of the international working-class.
And here we are, 92 years down the road, and with the same enemy at work in the
working-class. Think of right-wing labor leaders who push their unions into supporting reactionary politicians because some narrow interests have temporarily benefited, say in job creation, their own union at the expense of workers elsewhere. Lenin's old enemy is still very much alive both in the socialist and union movements.

There was, however, another enemy that the Marxists had to battle. This enemy of the workers was not as well known in Lenin's day but will be recognized by everyone familiar with Marxism and the history of the 20th century worker's movement. This enemy Lenin calls PETTY-BOURGEOIS REVOLUTIONISM, a mixture of anarchism and half baked revolutionary rhetoric.

Marxist theory, Lenin maintains, has shown that the small business owner ("the petty proprietor"), independent professionals, the self employed, and other members of the so-called "middle classes" who are situated between the large capitalist corporations and the working class, are constantly finding themselves ground down economically and subject to "a most acute and rapid deterioration" of their living conditions and "even ruin."

Today this is happening throughout the capitalist world. A member of the middle class in this situation  "driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries." Unfortunately, many of these people turn to right wing extremism on the one hand and to left wing groups on the other, including Marxist organizations, where they become ultra-revolutionary but are "incapable of perseverance, organization, discipline and steadfastness."  Even today it is difficult for Marxist working class parties to always spot and rid themselves of this unstable element. In any case, Lenin thinks anarchism and opportunism are "two monstrosities" that go hand in hand-- the former being the punishment doled out to the working class for the sins of the latter.

In the Russian context the most blatant example of petty-bourgeois revolutionism was to be found in the activities of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party (neither socialist not revolutionary in Lenin's view.) The Russian Marxists waged unremitting ideological struggle against this party (objectively a false friend of working people) over three of its most significant positions. In the first place the SRs would undertake political action without bothering to fully inform themselves of the issues, the class forces at work, and what the objective alignment of forces was.
[This reminds me of a small Trotskyist party whose members once told me that Cuba had betrayed the Revolution by not attacking the U.S. Navy when Grenada was invaded by Reagan.]

In the second place, the SRs engaged in personal acts of individual terrorism and political assassination which they considered to be very "Left" and very "revolutionary" actions but which the "Marxists emphatically rejected." Finally, the SRs criticized the German Social Democrats for minor opportunistic errors while they themselves were engaged in opportunistic activities far more serious than those of the Germans.

With respect to the second objection to the SRs-- i.e.,"individual terrorism", Lenin does not say that Marxists are against "individual terrorism" per se or for any "moral" reason but reject it "only on grounds of expediency." In fact, he approvingly notes that Plekhanov ("when he was a marxist") had "laughed to scorn" those who
"on principle" were opposed to "the terror of the Great French Revolution, or, in general, the terror employed by a victorious revolutionary party which is besieged by the bourgeoisie of the whole world."

The "expediency" of terrorism is still highly contentious today, but it is safe to say that who is or is not a "terrorist" seems to be determined by which side of the barricades the one making the judgement is standing. I will make no mention of the phony "War on Terrorism" being waged by the "bourgeoisie of the whole world" against the workers and peasants of the non-industrialized world by means of drones, air raids, mercenaries, apartheid walls, and military intervention and occupation.

Lenin, by the way, points out that the Russian Marxists had been proven correct in holding the position that the REVOLUTIONARY wing of  German Social Democracy
up to 1913 (and its traditions now carried on by the Russian Marxists) "CAME CLOSEST to being the party the revolutionary proletariat needs in order to achieve
victory." [Where is the "revolutionary proletariat today?" Will the present on going decline of the capitalist world order regenerate it?]

Now, Lenin says in 1920, it is obvious that of all the Western socialist parties, after the Great War, the revolutionary German Social Democrats have the best leaders. He is referring to the Spartacists (not to be confused with the petty-bourgeois Trotskyist sect in the U.S.) and the "Left,  proletarian wing of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany". [This Left consisted of the Spartacists who had joined the moderate Independents, but later (1918) broke away and became the Communist Party of Germany.]

With respect to the anarchists, Lenin says the whole period from the Paris Commune to the founding of Soviet Russia proves that the Marxist critique of this group was correct. However, the demise of the Soviet Union will no doubt give a new lease of life to this ideological dead end. Lenin does, incidentally, give the anarchists credit for pointing out the opportunistic positions of the Western Marxists on the question of the state. On this question Lenin refers his readers to his book "The State and Revolution" [a work, I fear, that will not cheer the hearts of many who call themselves "Marxists" today.]

Lenin now turns his attention to discussing two major struggles that were carried on within the Bolshevik movement against the "Left" Bolsheviks (actually they were left deviationists) namely, the 1908 question of participating in the Duma and the 1918 struggle around the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The problem in 1908 was that the "Left" Marxists  mechanically applied the correct tactics of 1905 when the party called for a boycott of the Duma (it was completely controlled by the Tsar and was swept away by the 1905 revolution) to the situation of 1908 where the duma was not totally subservient to the Tsar and the Bolshevik delegates could openly work to influence events and educate the masses politically. The same was true of the reactionary trade unions and other mass associations. In 1905 the boycott was correct "not because non-participation in reactionary parliaments is correct in general, but because we accurately appraised the objective situation" -- that an uprising was about to occur. There was no uprising on the horizon in 1908 after the 1905 revolution had been put down so the same tactics would have been out of place.

In fact, the party was in error by continuing to boycott the Duma in 1906  but corrected itself in 1908 and was correct in expelling the "Left" Marxists when they refused to see that new tactics were called for. The 1905 boycott helped the Party and the masses learn valuable lessons regarding the rejection of legal forms of opposition such as parliamentarianism but it is "highly erroneous to apply this experience blindly, imitatively and uncritically to OTHER conditions and OTHER situations."

Looking back at the period from 1908 to 1914, Lenin remarks that party would never have been able to educate and lead the masses had it not changed it tactics and engaged in legal activities even in the most reactionary institutions set up by the Tsar.

Although the "Left" Bolsheviks were expelled from the party in 1908 for opposing participation in the ultra-reactionary Duma (parliament) as well as other legal organizations approved by the Tsar (unions, cooperative societies, etc.,) Lenin says they were still basically good Marxists, as they recognized their errors and corrected them, and were by 1920 again members of the Communist Party and good revolutionaries.

Incidentally, Lenin in a footnote observes that "It is not he who makes no mistakes that is intelligent. There are no such men, nor can there be. It is he whose errors are not very grave and who is able to rectify them easily and quickly that is intelligent."

In 1918, with respect to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk [which required the Soviets to surrender large areas to the Germans in order to get peace (and a breathing spell)] the "Left" Communist "faction" again erred but it did not lead to a split as their leaders (Radek and Bukharin) admitted their mistake in opposing the treaty in the same year. They considered the treaty to be a compromise "with imperialism" and thus antithetical to the revolution and to the working masses. Lenin agreed that it was definitely a compromise but one that "HAD TO BE MADE."

Lenin would become chafed when western "Marxist" opportunists would use the example of Brest-Litovsk to justify the unprincipled compromises they were making with the bourgeoisie in their own countries. He would compare  the compromise
over the treaty with the compromise a person makes with a bandit who waylays his car and threatens to shoot the occupants if they don't cooperate. That is the position the Communists found themselves in. The western opportunists (Kautsky, Bauer, Adler, Renaudel, Longuet, the Fabians, British Independents and Labourites) actually made deals with their bourgeoisies against their own workers which amounted to being "ACCOMPLICES IN BANDITRY."

Lenin's point is that there are some compromises forced on the masses against their will due to the balance of power at a particular time, and then there are some that are not really forced on the masses but made by leaders for their own interests and personal or political advantages. A true Communist must be able to spot the difference and fight against the latter while explaining to the masses the necessity of the former. "However, anyone who is out to think up for the workers some kind of
recipe that will provide them with cut-and dried solutions for all contingencies, or promises that the policy of the revolutionary proletariat will never come up against difficult or complex situations is simply a charlatan."

To make sure he is not misunderstood Lenin proposes "several fundamental rules" to be used to distinguish principled from unprincipled compromises. One can spot the former if the leaders and party advocate internationalism and reject "defense of country" in international conflicts (i.e., reject support of their own bourgeoisie against the bourgeoisie of other countries, which support actually means not supporting their own workers and the workers of other countries.) This should also involve advocating universal peace between all countries. It should also support the revolutionary efforts to overthrow bourgeois and feudal governments by workers and peasants wherever they rise up in revolt. [Lenin refers to the German Revolution specifically but his logic, I think, extends to all revolutionary movements led by the working class.]

As for the latter, the opportunists, they can be recognized by their "defense of country" and justification of its military actions (or lack of serious struggle against it-- which amounts to the same thing.) Another sign of unprincipled actions is  "entering into a coalition with the bourgeoisie of THEIR OWN country" in its struggle to prevail over foreign countries; they thus become "ACCOMPLICES in imperialist

It is on this note that Lenin ends chapter four of "Left" Wing Communism. I must stress that the context of Lenin's thought is conditioned by the presence in Russia and in large segments of the European and International working class of a revolutionary fervor gripping millions of working people. The question for us is how to adapt Lenin's views to the present pre-revolutionary outlook of millions of people who are finding themselves being crushed by the slowly spreading decline and fall of the world capitalist system as we have known it since the end of WWII. What are we to do if we don't have on hand a revolutionary proletariat?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Principal Stages In The History of Bolshevism 1905-1917 and their Relevance Today

Thomas Riggins

Lenin, in his book "'Left Wing' Communism An Infantile Disorder," written in 1920, maintains that there are lessons from the Russian Revolution that may be of more general interest than to Russia alone. That was 92 years ago. The world of the early twenty-first century is one dominated by global financial capital and effectively controlled by a few advanced capitalist economic powers and at least one semi-capitalist (or quasi-socialist) economic power who (with few exceptions) lord it over the majority of the world's population dwelling in underdeveloped and super exploited regions. Trying to find what those lessons might be today may be more difficult than finding them was in 1920.

In explaining the background of the Russian Revolution and its lessons Lenin, in Chapter Three of "Left-Wing" Communism, discusses the history of Bolshevism from 1903 until the October Revolution in 1917.  Let's look at this chapter to see if there are any lessons for today or to see if it is just a record of what Lenin elsewhere calls the "historical peculiarities of Russia."

Lenin divides Bolshevik history into six stages which I shall briefly review. First is the period 1903-1905 "preparation for the revolution." This was a period when the three main classes of Russian society all sensed that a revolution was in the air and contended over the tactics to engage in and what sort of program should be advanced. The classes he mentions are the bourgeoisie (the liberals), the petty bourgeoisie (democratic forces calling themselves social democrats or social revolutionaries) and the working class (the authentic revolutionary forces). The classes grouped around the Czar had evidently already been eclipsed by the three "main" classes as Lenin doesn't mention them (although many of the liberals supported the idea of a "constitutional" monarchy). He does say, however, that besides the three main classes there were "intermediate, transitional or half-hearted forms."

Well, even with the economic crisis the world is still faced with in 2012, whose working class could be considered authentically revolutionary today? There are some glimmers of revolutionary class consciousness in Europe (Greece for example), in the Third World there are some workers and Communist/ Socialist movements that are actively fighting the capitalist system in one way or another (Nepal, parts of India), and Latin America is beginning to seriously challenge US dominance. US workers haven't even got a labor party going for themselves yet and divide their votes, along with the petty bourgeoisie  (which many workers think they are part of, calling themselves "middle class" ) between the two major parties of the bourgeoisie. As for the smell of revolution in the air, it is undetectable at the moment (perhaps masked by greenhouse gases). One gets, however, a whiff of fascism.

 In the advanced capitalist world there is not much evidence of the effects of this stage of Bolshevik history. However, there is something analogous that has been going on in Europe and elsewhere. All over the world people have been organizing and educating themselves to fight back against the corporations that have been attacking their environments and way of life. Big oil, and coal, and natural gas are increasingly finding resistance to their plans to exploit and pollute. Austerity is also being more and more rejected by the masses as a solution to the economic problems the bourgeoisie has brought upon the world. Workers in the US are beginning to wake up and fight back against the ultra-right (but this is still a very preliminary awakening.) The people may not be studying the history of Bolshevism at this point, but exploitation and oppression breeds opposition and so there is at least a family resemblance between what Lenin is writing about in the period 1903-1905 in Russia and today.

The second period, " the years of revolution", is that of 1905-1907. This is the period of the birth of the first Soviets in Russia. One would be hard pressed to find anything comparable going on today in the advanced capitalist world. However, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. and similar movements in Europe and the Near East, the so called "Arab Spring''-- where not contaminated by imperialist intrigue-- are perhaps fetal developments of future Soviets or Soviet like

While Lenin generally eschewed reliance on "spontaneity" as the motive force of revolutionary progress, he does say, "The Soviet form of organization came into being in the spontaneous development of the struggle."  This two year period was marked by a general uprising, a revolutionary upsurge against  the Russian ruling class and government. This type of  "spontaneous development" does not appear to be on the horizon in the U.S. but is detectable to some extent in the poorer areas of  the E.U. and, as the continued decline of the capitalist system now under way, becomes more and more intolerable for the general populations of these countries, we can expect to see the birth of revolutionary organizations analogous to those described by Lenin in LWC.

This will be a period of "The alteration of parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of struggle, of the tactics of boycotting parliament and that of the participating in parliament, of legal and illegal forms of struggle, and likewise their interrelations  and connections" and all this will be "marked by an extraordinary wealth of content." This will also be the period when the working class will emerge as the main leading revolutionary force and the "vacillating and unstable" middle classes will have to submit to its leadership for meaningful change to be brought about. The coming period will give the Communist parties and their allies an opportunity to again become the leading elements within the working class and society as a whole, which if they fail to seize it will lead to their replacement by new organizational forms of struggle. These next few years will be a "dress rehearsal" for even greater struggles to come.

The next period in the development of Bolshevism Lenin called the years of reaction (1907-1910). This period is really specific to Russia as we today are still on the cusp of a serious revolutionary outbreak analogous to 1905 so we don't have a current "years of reaction" (unless the Republicans win in the United States) to worry about. It would amount to putting the cart before the horse to discuss the reaction to a revolutionary outbreak that has not yet happened.

Nevertheless some comments by Lenin in this section are of universal application at any stage of a revolutionary struggle.  One of which is "that victory is impossible unless one has learned how to attack and retreat properly." Underestimating the strength of the enemy and overestimating your own has led to many a defeat in the workers movement-- often due to a pigheaded "no compromise" attitude.

In periods of reaction those who can correctly gage the balance of forces are the ones who will ultimately prevail. During the 1907 - 1910 period the Bolsheviks emerged as the strongest party on the left "because they ruthlessly exposed and expelled the revolutionary phrase-mongers, those who did not wish to understand that one had to retreat, that one had to know how to retreat, and that one had absolutely to learn how to work legally in the most reactionary of parliaments, in the most reactionary of trade unions, co-operative and insurance societies and similar organizations." Understanding this explains the positions adopted by some Marxist groups in the U.S. under the ultra-reactionary period ushered in by the regime of George W. Bush. An advance to the rear in order to advance to the front later in US military lingo.

According to Lenin the years of reaction were followed by the years of revival (1910-1914). The revival started off slowly but speeded up because of two factors. One was the "Lena events of 1912."  Lenin is referring to a massacre of workers in the Lena gold fields in Irkutsk by Tsarist troops which outraged Russian public opinion. The second factor was the exposure of the Mensheviks as "bourgeois agents." This needs some clarification.

It is not the case that the Mensheviks were consciously working against the interests of the Russian workers and peasants. In their own minds they thought they were furthering a reform program that had the most realistic chances for bringing about the changes which would most help the Russian masses. How then can Lenin call them "bourgeois agents?"

Lenin's rationale is that the Bolshevik program aims at the the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the creation of a worker's and peasant's state led by the working class. The Russian bourgeoisie is fighting tooth and nail, as are the Tsarists, against the Bolsheviks and seek to destroy their movement. But the attitude of the bourgeoisie towards the Mensheviks is quite different. The role of  the Mensheviks, as also anti- Bolshevik (and thus for Lenin against the true interests of the workers and peasants) "was clearly realized by the entire bourgeoisie after 1905, and whom the bourgeoisie therefore supported in a thousand ways."

As a result of the consciousness raising due to the Lena events and the realization of the role of the Mensheviks this period saw the growing empowerment of the the Bolsheviks with the Russian masses, which was the result of their following "the correct tactics of combining illegal work with the utilization of 'legal opportunities,' which they made a point of doing." Note that in modern bourgeois democracies "legal" and "illegal" have different connotations than in nondemocratic dictatorial societies such as Tsarist Russia.

The next stage is that of the "First Imperialist World War (1914-17)." It is interesting that Lenin is calling the The Great War (as it was called up to 1939) the first of its kind as if foreseeing the bloody history of the coming decades (although Charles Repington, a British war correspondent and officer, published a book in 1920 entitled The First World War).

This destructive war, one of the fruits of the vaunted capitalist system, brought about the death of millions and a redistribution of markets among the victorious capitalists at the expense of their rivals. The world socialist movement, supposedly united in opposition to the war which many saw coming, split when it actually broke out into those parties who supported "their" governments (who were labeled "social chauvinists" by Lenin) and those who actively opposed the war on the grounds of internationalism (workers of the world should be united against their exploiters not fighting each other for the greater glory of their "own" national bourgeoisie.)

The Bolshevik stance was clear-- they opposed the war and actively agitated against supporting it among the people. This anti-war position became extremely popular amongst the majority of workers and peasants who were used as cannon fodder by the reactionary bourgeoisie. Lenin credits the adoption of this principled position, and the exposure of the social chauvinism of those who betrayed the principles of the international socialist movement as one of the main "reasons why Bolshevism was able to achieve victory in 1917-20."

We come now to the last of Lenin's six stages: "The second revolution in Russia (February to October 1917)."  In February 1917 the bourgeoisie overthrew the moribund and useless Tsarist regime and instituted a democratic bourgeois republic freer, Lenin says, "than any other country in the world."  This Provisional government was overthrown in the October by the Bolsheviks. What went wrong with the government of the "freest country in the world"?

The government was dominated by the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries (the SRs were a party basically representing peasant interests and petty-bourgeois socialists-- it was non, but not anti-, Marxist). Their weakness, according to Lenin, was their slavish (no pun intended) following of the discredited ideas of the social chauvinists of the Second International, called by Lenin "the ministerialists and other opportunist riffraff." The ministerialists were those so-called "socialists" who accepted portfolios in governments controlled by the reactionary bourgeoisie; this was considered rank opportunism by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, a case of what might be called right-wing socialism an infantile disorder. European workers should know all about these sorts of "socialists."

The western socialists engaging in these opportunistic tendencies were merely repeating in the West the tactics that so discredited the Mensheviks in Russia from 1905 on. "As history would have it, the opportunists of a backward country became the forerunners of the opportunists in a number of advanced countries."

Granted that the concept of "opportunism" is complex-- one person's "opportunist" is another person's "realist" -- I think Lenin uses the term to describe those who abandon principled Marxist positions to adopt positions fundamentally at odds with the long term interests of the working class because they sought temporary gains for themselves and their allies. They confuse, consciously or unconsciously, the strategic aims of Marxism with the tactical aims of the moment and mistake means for ends.

Lenin ends this chapter of LWC by pointing out that the reason "the heroes of the Second International [Lenin lists Scheidemann, Noske, Kautsky, Hilferding, Renner, Austerlitz, Bauer, Adler, Turati  and Longuet, and besides throws in the Fabians, Mensheviks, etc.-- characters we shall meet later] have all gone bankrupt and have disgraced themselves " is due to their inability to understand "the significance of the role of the Soviets and Soviet rule."

The Soviets were councils of workers and peasants that came together to replace the bourgeois government not to submit to it and which combined both legislative and executive functions in one body. The Soviets did not represent the bourgeois concept of the "separation of powers" [for better or worse] and Lenin and the Bolsheviks saw them as a higher form of democracy (actually as an expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat) than bourgeois parliamentary democracy. The aforementioned opportunists, Lenin said, were all "slaves to the prejudices of petty-bourgeois democracy." For this reason they could not lead a successful proletarian revolution while the Bolsheviks could-- and did.

Lenin concludes that the Soviet form of government is rapidly spreading throughout the world to the workers of all countries. "Experience," Lenin says, "has proved that, on certain very important questions of the proletarian revolution [he means the establishment of Soviets], ALL countries will inevitably have to do what Russia has done."

Where are the Soviets today? If Lenin is right there will be no getting rid of capitalism without them-- or at least of getting rid of it by a working class revolution. Are there any viable alternatives to "petty-bourgeois democracy" on the horizon? If not, then, considering the fate of the Soviet Union, were the "opportunists" after all just "realists"? These are the questions to be answered as the struggle against the current capitalist  crisis deepens and advances.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Russian Revolution: An Essential Condition of Success by Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins

In the second chapter of his 1920 work "Left Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder, Lenin discusses what he considers to have been an essential condition for the victory of the Bolsheviks. My question is: is the Bolshevik model still viable and does it apply across the board to all societies transitioning from capitalism to socialism?

Certainly Lenin is correct when he says that the revolution would not have lasted (i.e., would have collapsed in a month or two) did it not have "the fullest and unreserved support from the entire mass of the working class." I don't think any successful socialist revolution (i.e., peaceful or non-peaceful transition to socialism) can take place without the level of support Lenin says was accorded to the Bolsheviks by the Russian working people. But, this support would not have been enough, Lenin says, without a party subject to "the most rigorous and truly iron discipline."  So the Russian formula was Mass Support + Iron Party = Socialist Revolution [MS +IP = SR].  But can different parties have different amounts of "iron"?

This is an important formula because another way of expressing it is MS + IP = DP where DP stands for "dictatorship of the proletariat" which, Lenin says, is "necessary."  Why does he think the DP is "necessary?" He gives the following five reasons. First, the capitalists are more powerful, as a class, than the workers. Second, capitalist resistance against the workers increases (Lenin says "tenfold") after they lose political power. Third, the capitalist class will get the support of the international capitalist class in its efforts to overthrow the revolution--[ this material support will be much greater than the moral support the workers will get]. Fourth, Russia has a great number of small producers and middle class elements who BY FORCE OF HABIT think in terms of capitalist ideology regardless of what their social interests might be [What's the Matter With Ukraine?] Finally, besides Russia, small-scale production is a world wide phenomenon  and wherever it exists  it "ENGENDERS capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously and on a mass scale."

Because of these five conditions Lenin says the DP is absolutely necessary because not only during, but after the revolution, the working people find themselves in a "life-and-death-struggle" with the bourgeoisie and victory is not possible without it (at least in Russian conditions which are the conditions he is presently discussing: whether this is a general rule for all revolutions is another question.) Lenin himself says that the Russian experience shows that their revolution, which he seems to equate with the DP-- i.e., the revolution = "the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat"-- could not have happened without "absolute centralization and discipline of the proletariat" and this is obvious even to "those who are incapable of thinking."

Is this one of the lessons of the Russian Revolution that is applicable to "all" socialist revolutions? Lenin says we should ask ourselves how was it possible for the Bolsheviks to gain the loyalty of the mass of Russian workers? There were three factors that made this possible. First, there was a VANGUARD party with advanced class consciousness which could LEAD the working people in the right political direction. Second, this vanguard was able to in effect MERGE in a way with the masses of the working people-- not only the proletariat (industrial workers in factories and other areas of  capitalist production) "BUT ALSO WITH THE NON-PROLETARIAN masses of working people." Third, that the working masses, from their own daily life experiences, saw and understood that the POLITICAL LINE of the leadership of the vanguard was correct.

 The correct political line cannot be achieved without a correct revolutionary theory, according to Lenin. This theory is not a dogma but has to be tested in the practice of a MASS revolutionary movement. Without these three factors in operation all attempts to get the working masses to follow your line and be "disciplined" in the struggle amount to "phrase-mongering and clowning."

So, the revolution was successful and the DP was instituted in Russia due to the fact that the Bolshevik party was able to discipline the working class and lead it to victory. Can the methods of the Bolshevik party be generalized and applied to other countries and revolutionary movements. Many revolutionaries have thought so and attempted to do so but Lenin himself says that the Bolsheviks succeeded "due simply to a number of historical peculiarities of Russia." This does not seem to be a firm basis for emulation.

What can other countries and movements learn from the Russian revolution? Well, it can't be copied ("historical peculiarities") but two great lessons have been passed on from it. One is the centrality of Marxist thought-- "the only correct revolutionary theory" according to Lenin-- and the other is the necessity of correctly applying this theory through years of struggle and adaptation to the "historical peculiarities" of each individual and particular country and movement. This second requirement is the most perilous as the temptation will always be there to allow temporary and accidental "historical peculiarities" to mask the actual historical forces at work and thus lead to incorrect revisions of Marxist theory resulting in "phrase-mongering and clowning." This is why international meetings of revolutionary parties are so important-- to keep individual parties from isolating themselves from the world movement.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Russian Revolution Today?

Thomas Riggins

In 1920 Lenin expressed his views on the international significance of the Russian Revolution [Chapter 1 of "Left Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder]. A lot of water has gone under the bridge in the last 92 years, are any of Lenin's views on this issue relevant today?

Well, there is a big problem with this chapter. Lenin is still waiting for a revolution in the advanced countries to come to the aid of the Russian Revolution. Despite the backwardness of Russia Lenin thinks that, after three years of revolution, there are some fundamental features of the revolution that are not local, national, or Russian and therefore will be of interest to revolutionaries in the advanced countries.

He says that "certain fundamental features" of the Russian Revolution have significance for "the international validity or the historical inevitability of a repetition, on an international scale, of what has taken place" in Russia. What can he be talking about?

First, he is going to try and be realistic and admits the we should not have an exaggerated view of the significance of Russian features since once the Revolution spreads to the advanced countries Russia will most likely "cease to be the model and will once again become a backward country." Second, taking the long view, since not only did no advanced country have a revolution, but the Russian model as such became defunct some seventy one years later (perhaps ultimately as a consequence) what were the features that Lenin thought had international application? Note he doesn't mention all of these features in this chapter-- he saves them for later in the work-- but we can survey his basic rationale for holding some of the Russian features to be of universal interest.

It is difficult today to accept the primary thesis of this chapter: which is "it is the Russian model that reveals to ALL countries something-- and something highly significant-- of their near and inevitable future."  This sentence needs revision. The "near" has to be removed and the "inevitable" is too deterministic and has to go as well-- replaced perhaps by "possible." The "ALL" is too sweeping so it will be replaced by "some." We don't need the parenthetical statement either. So we come up with "it is the Russian model that reveals to some countries something of their possible future."

While it was perfectly natural for Lenin in 1920 to be all hopped up and enthusiastic about the Revolution, it is this revised thesis which I think is actually correct and that can be defended even today and will prove to be the key to a contemporary understanding of Lenin's "Left- Wing Communism" and the enduring significance of the Russian Revolution.

There is a second thesis Lenin puts forth in this chapter which has to be abandoned all together: which is that the international working class has an advanced segment that, by means of a "revolutionary class instinct" (not by a conscious reasoning process) understands his first (unrevised) thesis. The most we could grant to this idea today is that there are advanced segments in the international working class but their ideas are not instinctual, they are the result of both their life-conditions (practice) and education and study of working class history and the nature of the world economy (theory). It is also the case that "advanced" workers are not all of one mind. Workers may understand intuitively (instinctualy) that they are being screwed by the boss-- but that is not a sufficent basis on which to build a revolutionary movement.

What evidence did Lenin have on hand for these theses? First the achievements of the revolution itself made him unduly optimistic at the time of the writing of this work. Second, he was impressed by rereading an old article in Iskra (from 1902) by his one time nemesis the Renegade Kautsky. The article, "The Slavs and Revolution", penned by Kautsky in his pre-renegade days, made several points that impressed Lenin as being highly relevant.

Here are three sentences from Kautsky's article which must have struck Lenin as prescient. "At the present time it would seem that not only have the Slavs entered the ranks of the revolutionary nations, but that the center of revolutionary thought and revolutionary action is shifting more and more to the Slavs." What a difference a century makes! No one today would think of the Slavs as a center of revolutionary thought or action. They may have made an heroic effort in the last century but that effort ultimately failed. "The new century has begun with events which suggest the idea that we are approaching a further shift of the revolutionary centre, namely to Russia." That turned out to be correct but was unsustainable. Finally, after noting that in the revolutionary actions of 1848 "the Slavs were a killing frost which blighted the flowers of the people's spring" [the role played today by the Americans], Kautsky concludes, "Perhaps they are now destined to be the storm that will break the ice of reaction and irresistibly bring with it a new and happy spring for the nations." Well, they tried--  but who  today plays that role-- perhaps only the Cubans come close, still inspiring Third World peoples and movements, but it is a great burden to place on the shoulders of a small nation.

So what can we conclude about the Russian Revolution today? In this chapter Lenin thought the main feature of the revolution that would apply to other countries in the future was that it would be a model for revolutionaries to look to until  more advanced economically developed capitalist countries had their own revolutions which would push the Russians into the background. He also thought that other countries would see their futures mirrored in the Russian Revolution. Let us hope he is wrong since what we see is that the Russians [and the Soviet people] fought and struggled for seventy years to build socialism and ended up with Putin.

Nevertheless, the ideals of a communist future and a world free of human exploitation and war still motivate millions of people around the globe to struggle for a better world and in that sense Lenin and his revolution will continue to inspire working people  and their allies  until the final conflict (assuming that it has not already taken place).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Coming to Grips with Zizek by Thomas Riggins

Two new books by Slavoj Zizik (Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, 1038 pp., and Living in the End Times, 504 pp.) have just been reviewed by John Gray ("The Violent Visions of Slavoj Zizek") in July 12, 2012 issue of The New York Review of Books. Professor Gray is to be commended for wading through 1500 pages of undiluted Zizek (and perhaps saving some of us from having to do so). I propose to review Gray's article and thus give a meta-critique, as it were, of some of Zizek's views as presented by Gray. If anyone is stimulated to go on to read Zizek so much the better, or worse as the case may be. You can find Gray's original article here:The Violent Visions of Slavoj Žižek by John Gray | The New York ...…. My reflections are divided into five parts.

1.) Zizek has produced over 60 books in the last two decades or so and has become one of the most famous public intellectuals in the West; propounding a sort of non-Marxist Marxism. The NY Review article has a picture of the philosopher sitting up in his bed in Ljubljana, Slovenia with a framed picture of Stalin on the wall behind him. New Yorkers may remember that he addressed the OWS movement in Zuccotti Park last October.

So what is Zizek's message? At one time he was a member of the Communist Party of Slovenia but he quit in 1988 and has since articulated a critique of capitalist society more influenced by a strange version of Hegel than by Marx. Gray says a CENTRAL THEME of ZZ's work "is the need to shed the commitment to intellectual objectivity that guided radical thinkers in the past."  Intellectual objectivity is a BOURGEOIS ILLUSION and most radicals, at least most Marxists, have always been partisans for the working class. Gray should be clearer about what ZZ is trying to express with this criticism.

ZZ wants to, in his own words, "repeat the Marxist 'critique of political economy', without the utopian-ideological notion of communism as its inherent standard." We had better be pretty familiar with, at least, the three big volumes of Das Kapital before we decide on accepting ZZ's "repeat" of Marx's project! ZZ doesn't think the world communist movement was radical enough. He writes, "the twentieth-century communist project was utopian precisely insofar as it was not radical enough." What does this mean? "Marx's notion of the communist society," ZZ writes, "is itself the inherent capitalist fantasy; that is, a fantasmatic scenario for resolving the capitalist antagonisms he so aptly described."

2.) It is all very well for ZZ to put down what he thinks is Marx's notion of communist society, but as a matter of fact neither Marx nor Engels spent much time speculating about a future communist society precisely because they thought such idle speculation unwarranted; they were more interested in dissecting the nature of capitalism and the methods needed to overthrow it. ZZ at least follows their example as Gray points out that nowhere in the 1000+ pages of Less Than Nothing does ZZ discuss what he thinks a future communist society would/should be like.

What he does discuss  says Gray (who calls the book a "compendium" of all ZZ's past work) is his new and unique interpretation of Hegel (by way of Jacques Lacan's unscientific reinterpretation of Freud) and its application to a new reading of Marx. In other words, the arch-rationalist Hegel is viewed from the point of view of the irrationalist Lacan and this mishmash of misinterpretation is used to explain Marx to us. 

One of Lacan's teachings is that REALITY cannot be properly understood by LANGUAGE. Which, if true, would make science impossible and bar us from ever understanding the nature of the world we live in. But it is language that Lacan uses to tell us something about the nature of reality, i.e., that language can't do that! Lacan also rejected Hegel's view that Reason is imminent in history. Big deal-- Marx and the entire history of post-Hegelian materialism has rejected this notion of Absolute Idealism for the last 150 years or more and no one needed Lacan to tell us about the outmodedness of this Hegelian notion. 

But ZZ thinks that Lacan has shown more than just that Hegel was wrong to think that Reason Rules the World. ZZ, says Gray, thinks that Lacan has shown "the impotence of reason."  This is a fundamental attack on the legacy of the Enlightenment upon which all attempts to understand the world scientifically and rationally are based; it is ultimately a fascist outlook.

ZZ has also been influenced by the contemporary French philosopher Alain Badiou (who has been himself influenced by Lacan and, shudder, Heidegger and has developed a form of Platonic Marxism).  Using some of Badiou's ideas ZZ constructs his own view of "dialectics" as being based, Gray says, on "the rejection  of the logical principle of noncontradiction." ZZ imputes this view to Hegel and thus claims Hegel rejected reason. ZZ writes  that for Hegel a (logical) proposition "is not  really suppressed by its negation." ZZ credits Hegel with the invention of a new type of logic: "paraconsistent  logic."

This is really confused. We have to distinguish between FORMAL LOGIC where the law of non-contradiction reigns, and Hegel's metaphysics or ontology of Being where there are different sorts of logic at work-- subjective logic (thoughts) and objective logic (the external world). But even here it is not a question of a "proposition" being suppressed. Hegel says neither things nor thoughts care for contradictions and when contradictions appear there is a movement to overcome and resolve them on higher levels of understanding and reason-- this is the inherent motion driving the "dialectic" a motion to overcome and eliminate contradictions.

Despite these considerations, ZZ forges ahead with his ill conceived "paraconsistant logic."  "Is not," he writes, "'postmodern' capitalism an increasingly paraconsistant system in which, in a variety of modes, P is non-P: the order is its own transgression, capitalism can thrive under communist rule. and so on?" 

At this point Gray quotes a long passage from Living in the End Times in which ZZ lays out the main theme of his book dealing with the response needed to "postmodern" capitalism: "The underlying premise of the present book is a simple one: the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its 'four riders of the apocalypse' are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions." ZZ misses here the fact that the four horsemen of the capitalist apocalypse are simply four manifestations  of the same fundamental contradiction under pinning the entire capitalist system, namely, the private appropriation of socially created wealth.

At this point Gray launches an unjustified attack on ZZ, accusing him of ignoring "historical facts" such as the environmental damage done by the Soviet Union and to the countryside by Mao's "cultural revolution." You can't just blame capitalism since both the SU and China had centrally planned economies. History, Gray says, does not provide any evidence that replacing capitalism by socialism will better protect the environment. 

What does "history" really show? Just take the case of the Soviet Union. The soviets tried to build socialism but were attacked by the western capitalist powers from day one. They had to take short cuts to industrialize and fend off the Nazi attack, and then the Nazi successor state as US imperialism took up the anti-communist crusade. China has a similar history. All parties in this conflict were societies still under the rule of the law of value, the reigning economic force in commodity producing economies. Socialism did not thrive (nor could it have thrived) in the primitive backward conditions it developed under in the 20th century. If socialist central planning were to replace the social anarchy of capitalism in the advanced capitalist states of the west (including Japan) where production could be based on need not profit (thus overcoming the law of value) we would be able to reign in our four apocalyptic horsemen and literally save the planet. This is what "history" really suggests and Gray's attack on ZZ on this issue is unjustified.

However, his next attack on ZZ has merit. ZZ's "Marxism" lacks any relation to the actual class struggle and does not reflect Marx's commitment to a materialist dialectic grounded in the empirical reality of day to day economic struggle. Here is what ZZ says: "Today's historical juncture does not compel us to drop the notion of the proletariat, or of the proletarian position--- on the contrary, it compels us to radicalize it to an existential level beyond even Marx's imagination. We need a more radical notion of the proletarian subject [i.e., the thinking and acting human being], a subject reduced to the evanescent point of the Cartesian cogito, deprived of its substantial content." 

This is just ridiculous. The worker treated in complete isolation from his/her class and relation to the means of production, treated as an isolated human being, is simply retrograde bourgeois idealism and in no way a more radical conception than that of Marx. It is an abandonment of the concept of the proletariat, or working class, as understood by Marxists.

3.) ZZ in fact abandons objectivity for a completely subjective position. "The truth we are dealing with here," he writes, "is not 'objective truth' but the self-relating truth about one's own subjective position; as such it is an engaged truth, measured not by its factual accuracy but by the way it affects  the subjective position of enunciation." In other words, "truth" is what inspires me to feel good about my chosen path-- my "project" and reinforces me in my actions to attain the fulfillment of my "project." ZZ thinks a communist society would be nice but doesn't think its really possible to attain but that doesn't mean we should not act up and agitate against the status quo. ZZ also thinks its ok to engage in terror if it helps my subjective enunciation. He supports Badiou's position in favor of "emancipatory terror" and lauds Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

To top off this witch's brew of petty bourgeois pseudo-revolutionary clap-trap, ZZ, Gray points out, "praises the Khmer Rouge." For all the meaningless killings Pol Pot and his gang indulged in ZZ does not blame their fall from grace as related to their barbarity. "The Khmer Rouge, were," he says, "in a way, not radical enough: while they took the abstract negation of the past to the limit [this is how an "Hegelian" refers to the killing fields!-tr] they did not invent any new form of collectivity." Would a new form of collectivity have justified their actions? [As we shall see ZZ rejects these criticisms by Gray on the grounds that his theory of violence has been misunderstood].

ZZ even goes so far as to call himself a Leninist. Gray gives a quote from a 2009 interview where ZZ remarks that: "I am a Leninist. Lenin wasn't afraid to dirty his hands. If you can get power, grab it." Gray is right to think that Lenin (as well as Marx) would hold ZZ's views in contempt. Lenin recognized the need for violence, it would be forced upon the workers by the ruling class, but he never celebrated it in the manner of ZZ who thinks it should be applied in a terrorist manner as a morale booster for the radical movement even though a successful revolution to get rid of capitalism is impossible. Gray gives another gem from ZZ on this topic: "Francis Fukuyama was right: global capitalism is 'the end of history.'" Very few, if any, people claiming to be Leninists believe that Fukuyama was right; I don't think, based on some of his current writings, that even Fukuyama thinks he was right.

4.) In this section I will deal with some valid points Gray makes against ZZ's fascination with the cult of violence, but points that are tarnished by Gray's own hyper cold war anti-communism and distortion of facts. ZZ does not think class conflict has an objective basis, according to Gray, who produces this quote from ZZ maintaining that class war is not "a conflict between particular agents within social reality: it is not a difference between agents (which can be described by means of a detailed social analysis), but an antagonism ('struggle') which constitutes these agents." It is therefore ultimately subjective-- just the opposite of what Marx and Lenin held.

To illustrate his position ZZ discusses the collectivization of agriculture and the struggle against the kulaks in the USSR in the 1920s and 30s. ZZ makes a valid observation that often non-Kulak poorer peasants  joined with the kulaks in opposing collectivization. This was a case of false consciousness. Americans are familiar with this phenomenon when they observe working people and minorities voting for the Republican Party and conservative candidates. ZZ says the Kulak non-Kulak boundary was often "blurred and unworkable: in a situation of generalized poverty, clear criteria no longer applied and the other two classes of peasants (poor and middle peasants -tr) often joined the kulaks (rich peasants- tr) in their resistance to forced collectivization." 

ZZ goes on to say, " The art of identifying a kulak was thus no longer a matter of objective social analysis; it became a kind of complex 'hermeneutics of suspicion," of identifying and individual's  'true political attitudes" hidden beneath his or her deceptive public proclamations." This is, by the way, the same "hermeneutics" Americans have to use, following the maxim that "all politicians are liars and say one thing but do another," when they try to figure out what candidates are saying and how they will actually behave once in office. 

 ZZ is wrong to think of this as a subjective process of self identification. Cases of false consciousness have objective social conditions (miseducation, prejudicial propaganda, poverty, illiteracy) as their causes. Gray is wrong, I think, to call ZZ's view "repugnant and grotesque" because he appeals to hermeneutics and doesn't criticize Stalin for killing millions of people but for using Marxist theory to try and explain what the actions of the USSR were with respect to collectivization. The idea that Soviet policy was to bring about forced collectivization by killing millions of people is a relic of cold war bunko. I recommend Michael Parenti's Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism  for a balanced discussion of the role of violence in Soviet history.

However, ZZ is to be faulted for rejecting using Marxist theory to understand and explain political actions. He says that a time comes to junk theory because "at some point the process has to be cut short with a massive and brutal intervention of subjectivity: class belonging is never a purely objective social fact, but is always also the result of struggle and social engagement." But you cannot have a successful people's movement (struggle and engagement) without a correct  analysis of the purely objective  social facts-- otherwise the movement has to rely on spontaneity and no movement has grown and prospered that based itself on spontaneity.

An idea of how far down the wrong road a social theorist calling him/herself a "Leninist" can wander is revealed by ZZ's attitudes towards Hitler and the Nazi apologist Martin Heidegger. Concerning Heidegger, ZZ writes, "His involvement with the Nazi's was not a simple mistake [of course not-- it was the essence of his world view-- tr] , but rather a 'right step in the wrong direction.'" How does ZZ arrive at this? He has a new reading of Heidegger to propose. He says, "Reading Heidegger against the grain, one discovers a thinker who was, at some points strangely close to communism…." Gray points out that ZZ  claims that the radically pro-Hitler Heidegger of the the mid 1930s could even be classified as "a future communist."  Indeed. What future does ZZ have in mind? Heidegger died in 1976 without ever, to my knowledge, having become any kind of communist.

ZZ thinks Heidegger was wrong, but also kind of right, in being a follower of Hitler, because there was a big problem with Hitler. Here is what it was, according to ZZ's own words quoted by Gray: "The problem with Hitler was that 'he was not violent enough,'  his violence was not 'essential' enough. Hitler did not really act, all his actions were fundamentally reactions, for he acted so that nothing would really change, staging a gigantic spectacle of pseudo-Revolution so that the capitalist order  would survive….  The true problem of Nazism is not that it 'went too far' in its subjectivist-nihilist hubris [ I am tempted to say it takes one to know one- tr] of exercising total power, but that it did not go far enough, that its violence was an impotent acting-out  which, ultimately, remained in the service of the very order it despised."

There is so much wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. In the first place there was only one socio-economic order at any rate that Hitler "despised" and wanted to destroy-- that was the order represented by the Soviet Union (he also despised and wanted to destroy the Jews.) Hitler used all the power at his disposal to accomplish his aims. It is impossible to conceive of what destruction Hitler could have wrought if had used (and had) the means to wreak even more violence on the world that he in fact did. He would not have destroyed capitalism as that was the economic order he furthered in Germany-- it was socialism, Marxism that he wanted to destroy. The Nazi's also rejected bourgeois democracy-- but because it was too weak to save the West from the hoards of semi-barbaric Bolshevik Untermenshen waiting to burst out of the Soviet Union and inundate Aryan Europe. If World War II was an impotent acting-out, I shudder to think what Hitler could have achieved if he was on ZZ's  political viagra.

But what about the Jews? What about anti-Semitism? Gray suggests that ZZ's attitude towards eliminating anti-Semitism from the world would also involve eliminating the Jews. This may or may not be so but it does not make ZZ an anti-Semite; it only shows, if that is what he means, that he accepts the ultra-right Zionist view that non Jews will always be against Jews and the only solution is an exclusively Jewish state. Well, what does ZZ say about all this?

He states that "The fantasmatic [ZZ's own word for "fantastic"- tr]  status of anti-Semitism is clearly revealed by a statement attributed to Hitler: 'We have to kill the Jew within us.'" He continues: "Hitler's statement says more than it wants to say: against his intentions, it confirms that the Gentiles need the anti-Semitic figure of the "Jew" in order to maintain their identity. [Oh my! I hope Herr Hitler is not the representative spokesperson for the "Gentiles." Hitler's statement doesn't confirm anything other than his own personal anti-Semitism-tr] It is thus not only that 'the Jew is within us'-- what Hitler fatefully forgot to add is that he, the anti-Semite, is also in the Jew.  What does this paradoxical entwinement mean for the destiny of anti-Semitism?" 

Gray admits to having problems trying to figure just what ZZ means (he is too prolix and uses terms out of context from different philosophies to describe his own quite different views) but it seems quite a stretch to suggest that ZZ may be soft on anti-Semitism. ZZ himself has taken great umbrage at Gray's comments in this review and has penned a response that it well worth reading and claims to set the record straight on this issue. [Slavoj Žižek Responds to His Critics]

5.) An example Gray gives of using terms out of context is ZZ's assertion that one may say that Gandhi was more violent that Hitler. Why would anyone want to say that except for "shock value?" ZZ says, in his reply to Gray, that Gray has misinterpreted him. ZZ believes in a type of violence in which "no blood is shed" and then refers to Ghandi's struggles against the British in India-- usually referred to as based on "nonviolence." Since "nonviolence" is a special sort of "violence" it appears that since Ghandi was more nonviolent than Hitler he was more violent than Hitler. This is the "Hegelian" dialectic run amuck.

Here is another example of ZZ, saying nothing according to Gray, engaging in meaningless wordplay. "The … virtualization of capitalism is ultimately the same as that of the electron in particle physics. The mass of each elementary particle is composed of its mass at rest plus the surplus provided by the acceleration of it movement; however, an electron's mass at rest is zero [sic], its mass consists only of the surplus generated by the acceleration, as if we are dealing with a nothing which acquires some deceptive substance only by magically spinning itself into an excess of itself." I'm not sure what ZZ is trying to say here about electrons, let alone capitalism (is surplus value "magical") but I don't think the rest mass of an electron is zero in the first place. For what it is worth Wikipedia says "The electron rest mass (symbol: me) is the mass of a stationary electron. It is one of the fundamental constants of physics….  It has a value of about 9.11×10−31 kilograms or about 5.486×10−4 atomic mass units, equivalent to an energy of about 8.19×10−14 joules or about 0.511 megaelectronvolts." 

Granted it is a very small mass, an electron is, after all, a very small particle-- but it is not zero. ZZ expects us to read 1038 pages of this stuff!  It might be a good reference book to ZZ ideas-- which don't seem to be very Leninist-- the index has 10 references to Lenin while Lacan has over 2 columns devoted to his views! Gray is a hostile reviewer, but he is also hostile to Marxism, nevertheless, his review calls into question ZZ's basic methods of thinking and expressing himself (Gray says he represents "formless radicalism"). To get some idea of where Gray is coming from (I don't think it's a very nice place since it's anti-Enlightenment) check out the following: John N. Gray - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Well, so much for coming to grips with ZZ-- for more information on Less Than Nothing the next stop is