“What to do/What not to do” are the new “What is to be done?”

I have finished plowing through the brilliant collection of essays by Paul LeBlanc, Unfinished Leninism, and like every other great book it raises issues and questions. I was under the impression that Unfinished Leninism would be directed towards finding applicability of Leninism in modern era activism, and while the latter half of the volume certainly reflects this, the first 50% is historiography, a history of histories, analyses, schools of thought, etc that have been influenced by the long arm of Leninism for the past century.
However, LeBlanc does offer some fruitful insight into the making of a revolutionary party, which I’ve transcribed and included with this email. I am very curious to know what people think – this was written in the US in 2013, so certain matters of context have to be taken into consideration, but I still find LeBlanc’s arguments very compelling. What do people think? Should I even be using this platform to bring up questions like these? Is LeBlanc crazy or correct?
There will be a longer review of Unfinished Leninism later this week – suffice to say that this is one of the more “important” books that I’ve read/reviewed in a while. It is a very contemporary approach to an ideology that has been bogged down and drowned in academia for far too long.
This is taken directly from the volume; if either Haymarket Books or LeBlanc himself want it taken down for copyright infringement, I will do so. Nevertheless, this is a very intriguing contribution to Leninism as it is applied today:
What not to do – Paul LeBlanc
Imagine a group of half a dozen young activists who believe they have the Correct Program and that they are building the genuine nucleus of a Revolutionary Vanguard Party. Imagine that they make a point of throwing themselves into the struggle against major cuts in their city’s public transit system, and that they also go down, during the Occupy Wall Street movement, to the related Occupy site in their city to talk to activists to talk about socialism.
So far, so good.
But then imagine that they did not actually participate in the Occupy movement – that instead they went down to lecture to it, to sell their literature, and to try to recruit away from that struggle. They view it as a non-working class, essentially petty-bourgeois enterprise mired in the chaos of ideological confusion; a chaos of anarchist and left-reformist and radical Christian and free market libertarian and revolutionary socialist and idiosyncratic personal notions swirled around in the incredibly animated debates and discussions.
But I would argue that the class composition of the occupiers – when we strip away the conceptual fuzziness of the “middle class”- was essentially working class. Occupy was hated by members of the working class who inhabited the Fox News universe, but a majority of the working-class approved of their message of challenging the mega-wealthy 1% and standing up for the 99%. Major sectors of the organized labour movement stood up for, and materially helped the Occupy movement.
But the sterling class-struggle socialists, in all the magnificence of their tiny little group, decide to stand aside. They become irrelevant to the Occupy movement, and unsuccessful in their missionary work, so they finally stop bothering with it. Imagine also, that in a slightly different way, they also draw back from the transit struggle in which they played an important role. After selling pamphlets and magazines containing socialist discussions of the transit struggle, after working to recruit transit activists to their own specific projects, after new forces (including some from the Occupy movement) came into the struggle, and at the moment when push was coming to shove in the transit struggle, imagine that they pull back in order to focus on consolidating their own members and organization. There are groups that have pretty much functioned in this way. It is unlikely that such a mode of operation can result in a genuinely revolutionary party.
In reaction against such sectarian small-group politics, there are some who have advanced a “unity” recipe. This is premised on a recognition that all of us adhere, in various ways, to the same basic principles (as codified, for example, in The Communist Manifesto) and that – in the amazing new period that is opening before us, behind us, and all around us – now is the time for a unified socialist organization of several thousand people working together. This is opposed to the bits and pieces of such an organization competing with each other, brandishing separate newspapers, organizing separate educational conferences, promoting separate projects, articulating separate political lines.
But it is not clear that an attempt to merge into a single group would be a fruitful expenditure of one’s time – but because it may not yield the positive results that its proponents imagine. Imagine throwing one’s self into intensive unity discussions and negotiations with those who are in the small sectarian group just described. Multiply that by ten – with some other groups considering socialism as a goal that can be achieved by working in the Democratic Party, or as a goal consistent with the oppressive regime of North Korea, or in some cases as a goal that can probably not really be achieved, or in other cases as a goal that will be achieved through their own particular, rigidly worked out game plan.
Even if we were able to create such a unified organization, encompassing all these tendencies, it is not clear that the result would be worth much. It could turn out to be a big multi-factional sect that is not able to play an effective role in the actual struggles of our time, or to present a coherent perspective and a hospitable atmosphere for the radicalizing layers of the working class that are just about ready to embrace socialism as part of their evolving class consciousness.
What to do
So what should we do instead to advance the goal of building a revolutionary party in the United States? First of all, we must recognize that the most we can do at this moment is help create the preconditions for such a party. Things may be different in ten years or even five years [this was written in 2013 – ed] – but that is the situation now.
To advance this, the primary thing is to be immersed in the actual struggles of our time- the Occupy movement, the transit struggle, the opposition to war and racism, the ongoing class for economic justice, and more. As part of this immersion, we must learn and learn more, help advance the struggle to the best of our abilities, and (when we are able) to teach – teach how to do things, how to strategize, how to function, how to analyze a situation (using socialist perspectives and Marxist ideas in a way that is open and yet comprehensible to others).
Related to this, of course, we need to help share and develop Marxist theory, and a Marxist understanding of history, in ways that can be helpful to people in comprehending and advancing the struggles of today. Both things together – the immersion in struggles and the engagement with socialist theory and education – are essential, in my opinion.
To advance both of these tasks, I think it helps to be part of a Marxist organization that is committed to doing both, an organization n that understands clearly that it is not the Vanguard, but instead that it is a part of a process, a process of creating the preconditions for the emergence of a revolutionary party that will encompass activists from a number of organizations (and people who are members of no organization and in some cases not even activists yet).
The kind of organization that I would be a part of should, in my opinion, avoid hothouse efforts to create The Revolutionary Party. Instead, it should focus on being immersed in, helping, and learning from the actual struggles of our time, and both in that context of struggle and also transcending that context give attention to teaching and using and developing socialist consciousness and Marxist theory.
We should go out of our way to work with others, especially taking seriously any common work we can carry out with other socialists – and anarchists too, some of whom are fine and principled revolutionary activists. In some cases, we will simply be doing good work in a transit struggle or Occupy action or union effort. In some cases we will be able to establish more formal united front efforts. And with it all, I think, we should reach for an increase of discussion, comradely debate, friendships, and more.
And the “more than friendship” I have in mind refers not to love affairs (although I imagine there may be some of those, and that’s okay), but involves seeing all of this as preparing conditions out of which a revolutionary party can emerge – representing an evolving and broad vanguard layer of the working class.
There is another aspect of this party-building perspective that needs to be raised. A genuinely revolutionary party cannot simply be a collection of “jolly good fellows” who have gotten to know each other during an accumulation of struggles. We need to be united around a program – an understanding of where we are, where we want to end up, and how to get from here to there. We do have a basic program in the Communist Manifesto, of course, but we to have a sense of how this applies to 21st Century realities and how we need to be applying this to US conditions of our time. These will need to emerge from hard work – involving especially learning from our struggles, but also through some research and study, and from debates and discussions with our various comrades in struggle. Such a process of developing our program will need to evolve as part of the general process of preparing the conditions for a revolutionary party.
In trying to advance this complex and incredibly important process of building a revolutionary party, it seems to me that it is useful to compare notes with comrades in different contexts, with different experiences, with different insights and notions. We need to keep thinking, keep learning from our experiences and from each other, and keep engaging in outreach and struggles and creative efforts to reach more people, drawing more people into this molecular process of composing a vanguard layer for revolutionary struggle, providing the social basis and needed experience for a revolutionary party capable of bring thing the fundamental, life affirming changes we genuinely need.

One thought on ““What to do/What not to do” are the new “What is to be done?”

  1. Pingback: Le Blanc/Unfinished Leninism | better read than dead

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