Lenin Re: lbo-talk-digest V1 #5003

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Tue Oct 9 10:37:42 PDT 2001

Doug Henwood wrote:
> Macdonald Stainsby wrote:

> > Meaning that our orientation is far less concerned
> >with appearances than it is results.
> Right. And several people at Zizek's Esssen conference on Lenin said
> that Leninism was about "concrete analysis of the concrete
> situation." What is specifically Leninist about this, or giving
> priority to results over appearances?

I would disagree with Essen Conference, with Doug & Zizek, and to a large extent with Mac. Personally, I wouldn't try to state the "essence" of Lenin ("Leninism" is probably a misleading term) in less than several hundred pages. One can describe some of the important features of his practice, without claiming that they represent such an essence but only that they point toward further thinking. I offer a numbered list in no particular order.

1. This may be apocryphal, but a friend once quoted Lenin as saying there are three revolutionary virtues: 1. Patience 2. Patience 3. Patience. In other words, the most hysterical anti-Leninist on this list lately was Steve Perry, who I gather has left us. Whether he said this or not, a reasonably careful reading of the first 10 or 15 volumes of his CW makes it fairly obvious.

2. Immense respect for the spontaneous activity of working people. For those who actually read WITBD rather than echo the ravings of his enemies that work makes this respect overwhelmingly obvious. In fact, WITBD makes no sense whatever except in terms of such respect, since all of its recommendations presuppose the existence of such spontaneous activity.

3. The assumption that revolutionaries must spend a good deal of time talking to each other, and that a major task of revolutionary organizations is to create the context for such conversation. Here again Stever Perry is the archetype of the anti-Leninist.

4. Anti-empiricism. The thrust of MEC is that the real is invisible -- relations rather than naked facts. Mel Rothenberg gave a good paper on this at last year's Marxism 2000 conference. (Lenin did not have to reread Hegel in 1916 to learn dialectics.)

5. In the useful (though perhaps not wholly tenable) distinction the Chinese introduced between thought and theory, most of Lenin's work should in fact be categorized under "thought," and when he speaks of theory it is thought he is referring to. Hence the "ism" in Leninism is nearly as misleading as the ism in "Maoism." Hence the task of transferring Lenin's thought to a different context is, while neither impossible nor unnecessary, fraught with a good deal of difficulty and should not be lightly undertaken.

6. Agitation as well as propaganda is directed primarily towards those who are already in agreement with us, except that in the case of agitation that agreement is casual, perhaps shallow, and is agreement only in reference (for the most part) to the workers' personal experience, while in the latter case the worker/comrade has made her agreement more or less conscious and is seeking actively to deepen it.

7. The best commentary I know on WITBD is Hal Draper, "The Myth of Lenin's 'Concept of the Party': Or What They Did to _What Is To Be Done_," _Historical Materialism_ 4 (Summer 1999), pp. 187-213.





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