Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 15, 2014

Left Forum panel discussion on Lenin and democracy

Filed under: democracy,Left Forum,Lenin — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

This is the first in a series of videos I made at the recently concluded Left Forum.

Even though I was reconciled to making some points about Lenin and democracy within the sixty seconds allotted me during the Q&A after the presentations above, I was not ready to limit myself to a question. After 30 seconds (I timed myself) of making some points about the Bolsheviks opposing democracy in the Ukraine after 1917, someone in the audience interrupted me, telling me that I could only ask a question. I gave up at that point and walked out in disgust. If I knew who the nitwit was, I would have written an open letter warning him that if he ever did it again, he’d regret it–dagnabit.

Now that I am back in my ‘hood—the Internet—I don’t have to show anybody my stinking badge as the Mexican bandit told Humphrey Bogart in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. I will have my say on these questions now and that’s that.

As might be expected from a panel organized by Paul Le Blanc, there was effusive praise for Lenin as a democrat. Nimtz just wrote a book titled “Lenin’s Electoral Strategy from 1907 to the October Revolution of 1917: The Ballot, the Streets – or Both” that can be yours for a mere $85. An educated consumer can listen to him and decide whether to pony up the cash. Ty Law focused most of his talk on the election campaigns being run by Socialist Alternative, including his own in Minneapolis.

If you go strictly by what Lenin wrote, there’s not much to disagree with. Of course, we know from experience that Marxists reading the same Lenin texts can draw violently opposed conclusions, as is the case with the works of Marx and Engels as well.

With Lenin, this becomes even more of a problem when considering the actions of the Soviet state in the period following the October 1917 revolution when the survival of the state required sacrificing socialist principles in the interests of national security. What becomes even more confusing is that the sacrifice was often defended as serving socialist principles when they were in fact violating them. In a way, it was analogous to the character in “Manuscripts Don’t Burn”, the very powerful Iranian film, who insisted that he was serving God by killing agents of the “Cultural NATO”.

We are used to cynical defenses of indefensible actions after Stalin took power but there is ample evidence that the Soviet Union was ready to apply realpolitik in the same fashion. The tragedy was that the application of realpolitik backfired as the Soviet victims came to the conclusion that when it came to their own interests and that of the Soviet state, they came in a distant second.

Let me review a few examples:

1. Turkey:

The USSR welcomed the new Kemalist government in Turkey as an anti-imperialist partner, which it was. Just as the Red Army drove back the Whites, Mustafa Kemal defeated the imperialist-backed Greek army. But in addition to being anti-imperialist, the Kemalists were also anti-Communist. In volume 3 of his history of the infant Soviet republic, E.H. Carr describes the willingness of the USSR to look the other way when it came to the democratic rights of the Turkish Communists:

The suppression of Edhem [a Makhno type figure] was immediately followed by drastic steps against the Turkish communists. Suphi was seized by unknown agents at Erzerum, and on January 28, 1921, together with sixteen other leading Turkish communists, thrown into the sea off Trebizond — the traditional Turkish method of discreet execution. It was some time before their fate was discovered. Chicherin is said to have addressed enquiries about them to the Kemalist government and to have received the reply that they might have succumbed to an accident at sea. But this unfortunate affair was not allowed to affect the broader considerations on which the growing amity between Kemal and Moscow was founded. For the first, though not for the last, time it was demonstrated that governments could deal drastically with their national communist parties without forfeiting the goodwill of the Soviet Government, if that were earned on other grounds.

2. Poland:

Thanks to Paul Kellogg, we are now privy to the USSR’s violation of Polish democratic rights when Lenin was alive and kicking. To put it in a nutshell, there was a tendency in the early 20s to consider the use of the Red Army as being roughly equivalent to Napoleon Bonaparte’s peasant army. Where Napoleon used the army to extend bourgeois-democratic social relations, the Red Army would serve to extend socialism where it did not exist beforehand as well as defend the USSR.

In giving the green light to an invasion of Poland in 1920, Lenin overruled Trotsky’s objections. Here is Kellogg’s explanation of the differences between Russia and Poland:

But Poland was not Russia. True, the Polish peasants were oppressed by a rich and corrupt landlord class, just as were the Russian peasants,. But they were also oppressed by Russia, through a long history of invasions and occupations. The relation of Poland to Russia was analogous to that of Ireland to Great Britain, Quebec to English Canada, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) to the United States. The Polish people were an oppressed nation within the prison‐house of nations that had been Tsarist Russia. An army of Russian peasants was not going to be greeted as a liberation army any more than would be a British army in Ireland, an English Canadian army in Quebec, or an 18th‐century U.S. army in Haudenosaunee territory in what is today New York state.

The Russian invasion was a disaster, not just for the Red Army that was routed but for Polish Jews who fell victim to the Red Army’s demoralized deserters as Lenin noted:

A new wave of pogroms has swept over the district. The exact number of those killed cannot be established, and the details cannot be established (because of the lack of communication), but certain facts can be established definitively. Retreating units of the First Cavalry Army (Fourth and Sixth Divisions) have been destroying the Jewish population in their path, looting and murdering … Emergency aid is vital. A large sum of money and food must be sent.

3. Ukraine

This was the most glaring example. I find it singularly depressing that much of the left is either unaware of the painful realities of early Soviet history are—even worse—prefers to sweep it under the rug. I can only recommend once again the article titled “For the independence of Soviet Ukraine” (written when the Ukraine had not gained its independence) by Polish Trotskyist Zbigniew Kowalewski.

It will not only show how little interest the Bolsheviks had in the democratic rights of the Ukraine but the degree to which today’s problems have their origins in the Soviet state arrogating to itself the right of sovereignty over a “lesser nationality”:

Skrypnyk, a personal friend of Lenin, and a realist always studying the relationship of forces, was seeking a minimum of Ukrainian federation with Russia and a maximum of national independence. In his opinion, it was the international extension of the revolution which would make it possible to resist in the most effective fashion the centralising Greater Russian pressure. At the head of the first Bolshevik government in the Ukraine he had had some very bitter experiences: the chauvinist behaviour of Muraviev, the commander of the Red Army who took Kiev, the refusal to recognize his government and the sabotage of his work by another commander, Antonov-Ovseyenko, for whom the existence of such a government was the product of fantasies about an Ukrainian nationality. In addition, Skrypnyk was obliged to fight bitterly for Ukrainian unity against the Russian Bolsheviks who, in several regions, proclaimed Soviet republics, fragmenting the country. The integration of Galicia into the Ukraine did not interest them either. The national aspiration to sobornist’, the unity of the country, was thus openly flouted. It was with the “Katerynoslavian” right wing of the party that there was the most serious confrontation. It formed a Soviet republic in the mining and industrial region of Donetsk-Kryvyi Rih, including the Donbas, with the aim of incorporating it into Russia. This republic, its leaders proclaimed, was that of, a Russian proletariat “which does not want to hear anything about some so-called Ukraine and has nothing in common with it”. This attempted secession could count on some support in Moscow. The Skrypnyk government had to fight against these tendencies of its Russian comrades, for the sobornist’ of the Soviet Ukraine within the national borders set, through the Central Rada, by the national movement of the masses.

What all these violations of democracy have in common is their belief in the special role of the USSR. As a cradle of socialism, it had the right to run roughshod over the democratic rights of other nationalities as part of a larger effort to defend socialism and by extension the worldwide revolution.

As should be obvious from the tendency of people like John Rees and Tariq Ali to line up with Putin against Obama, the same disregard for “lesser nationalities” never went away. What is bizarre, however, is the application of this Red Realpolitik to states that have nothing to do with socialism. A simple algebraic formula is applied. You take the position that any struggle that emerges against client states of Russia is ipso facto pro-imperialist. Since the world is divided between the “imperialist” bloc and the “non-imperialist” bloc, all you need to do is locate a struggle within the two camps. Any effort to understand or even sympathize with a Syrian or a Ukrainian sick and tired of oligarchic rule is excluded.

Of even greater concern is how this methodology feeds reactionary tendencies even as it is deployed on “anti-imperialist” grounds. As has been pretty well established, the European ultraright, including Golden Dawn that now sings Nazi anthems at its rallies, has thrown in its lot with Russia, which they see as a brake on European Union ambitions. The emerging alliance between ultraright parties and Russia also rests on social questions, such as the need to support “traditional values” such as Christianity and the nuclear family, as well as nativist opposition to immigrants. I sometimes wonder how in the world such people can fail to see the handwriting on the wall but then again I remember how blind the CP was in another period of a protracted economic downturn. If Marxism is to have any value in this period, it will be on the basis of drawing clear class lines. The time for building multiclass alliances in the name of questionable “anti-imperialism” is long gone.


  1. Louis, just a few questions/observations : Firstly, the US military of today and the Red Army in Lenin’s time seem to have similarities. In the same way imperialist state abandons democracy abroad in pursuit of its own interests under the guise of the greater good! That Russia did the same as an anticapitalist power is interesting to say the least. Also, it seems that Lenin saw democracy as more of a means than an end. None the detractions lessen Lenin’s stature as one of the greatest revolutionaries of all time, it just means we re-evalute him and demystify and demythologize Lenin
    My questions are: Does same rules that are applied to imperialist hegemony apply the USSR in Lenin’s time and afterwards? Being that Trotsky is just as complicit should we divide His actions into what he did alongside Lenin & what he did and theorized once the Left Opposition began? Finally, should we be willing to uncritically accept the subjugation or minimizing of democracy by a socialist/revolutionary government, when it comes under assault from imperialism? Thank you

    Comment by Jim Brash — June 15, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

  2. Jim, I think the best thing would be to stop using Lenin’s writings as a guide to political action today. I urge everybody to read Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky but once you have mastered the ABC’s of Marxism, you have to start with social reality itself and not through the prism of “the classics”. This means, at least for me, going to the bourgeois press that despite all its faults is responsible for providing the facts–not so much for our benefit but for the benefit of the ruling class politicians who need a reliable source of information about what is going on in the world. This would give you, for example, a pretty good idea of what is happening in American society. If you look at today’s NY Times, there is a very good piece on the consequences of the 2008 Great Recession. I should add that Marx’s Capital is filled with references to the bourgeois media and social science texts of his day. We need to develop our own Lenin and Trotsky’s of today. This means really taking a serious approach to research. It is important to understand that Lenin became the most respected Marxist thinker in Russia after writing his study of how capitalism was transforming Russia. This is work that I recommend highly. Here’s the sort of thing we should be doing on the changing American working class:

    Comparing the data on the large factories with those on all “factories and works” given in our of official statistics, we see that in 1879 the large factories, constituting 4.4% of all “factories and works” concentrated 66.8% of the total number of factory workers and 54.8% of the total output. In 1890 they constituted 6.7% of the total number of “factories and works,” and concentrated 71.1% of all factory workers and 57.2% of the total output. In 1894-95 they constituted 10.1% of all “factories and works,” and concentrated 74% of all factory workers and 70.8% of the total output. In 1903, the large factories in European Russia, those with over 100 workers, constituted 17% of the total number of factories and works and concentrated 76.6% of the total number of factory workers.[3] Thus, the large, mostly steam-powered, factories, despite their small numbers, concentrate an overwhelming and ever-growing proportion of the workers and output of all “factories and works.” The tremendous rapidity with which these large factories have been growing in the post-Reform period has already been noted. Let us now cite data on the equally large enterprises in the mining industry.[4]

    Comment by louisproyect — June 15, 2014 @ 10:00 pm

  3. “This means, at least for me, going to the bourgeois press that despite all its faults is responsible for providing the facts–not so much for our benefit but for the benefit of the ruling class politicians who need a reliable source of information about what is going on in the world.”

    I thought they used spy systems, we know that Google, Microsoft and so on, are in bed with NSA. Not counting other private intelligence companies.

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 16, 2014 @ 3:14 am

  4. Can’t be boiled down to right and left. There are rightists fighting for Russian interests and against it. The Ukrainian right sector was heavily involved in the recent attack on the Russian embassy in Kiev.

    As for the red army invading it depends on your position. If it was indeed a “workers state” it makes sense that it would be supported against any and all bourgeois states. And bourgeois democracy and the right of national liberation too. Remember what Trotsky wrote about “poor little democratic Finland”. Even Marx said the forward thinking Paris commune should have raised a militia and marched on the backward peasant provinces of France where the old regime found a new base.

    I personally don’t think it was a workers state though, so I join in the critique of methods.

    The only thing that ever made me question my position was the drastic and obvious gains made by women when the USSR invaded Afghanistan and the horrors inflicted when they withdrew.

    Comment by Kuya Samuel — June 16, 2014 @ 5:11 am

  5. “Lenin became the most respected Marxist thinker in Russia after writing his study of how capitalism was transforming Russia. ”

    Does it matter that the work you mention turned out to be utter shite? In that book Lenin argued that the majority of the population was already proletariat and that capitalist property relations prevailed in the countryside. He admitted this was wrong post 1917 and changed nearly every position he made in that piece years earlier.

    Comment by Kuya Samuel — June 16, 2014 @ 5:15 am

  6. @ # 1. Jim Brash. Re: “Also, it seems that Lenin saw democracy as more of a means than an end.”

    Dear Jim, albeit Proyect has rightfully pointed out a series of historic Bolshevik blunders that even Trotsky in hindsight would concede to, the question of means & ends is not so simple.as you suggest.

    So in Trotsky’s words here’s….

    “An Instructive Episode:

    Here it is proper to relate an episode which, in spite of its modest dimensions, does not badly illustrate the difference between their morals and ours. In 1935, through a letter to my Belgian friends, I developed the conception that the attempt of a young revolutionary party to organize “its own” trade unions is equivalent to suicide. It is necessary to find the workers where they are. But this means paying dues in order to sustain an opportunist apparatus? “Of course,” I replied, “for the right to undermine the reformists it is necessary temporarily to pay them a contribution.” But reformists will not permit us to undermine them? “True,” I answered, “undermining demands conspirative measures. Reformists are the political police of the bourgeoisie within the working class. We must act without their permission, and against their interdiction Through an accidental raid on comrade D.’s home in connection, if I am not mistaken, with the matter of supplying arms for the Spanish workers, the Belgian police seized my letter. Within several days it was published. The press of Vandervelde, De Man, and Spaak did not of course spare lightning against my “Machiavellianism” and “Jesuitism”. And who are these accusers? Vandervelde, president for many years of the Second International, long ago became a trusted servant of Belgian capital. De Man, who in a series of ponderous tomes ennobled socialism with idealistic morals, making overtures to religion, seized the first suitable occasion in which to betray the workers and became a common bourgeois minister. Even more lovely is Spaak’s case. A year and a half previously this gentleman belonged to the left-socialist opposition and came to me in France for advice upon the methods of struggle against Vandervelde’s bureaucracy. I set forth the same conceptions which later constituted my letter. But within a year after his visit, Spaak rejected the thorns for the roses. Betraying his comrades of the opposition, he became one of the most cynical ministers of Belgian capital. In the trade unions and in their own party these gentlemen stifle every critical voice, systematically corrupt and bribe the most advanced workers and just as systematically expel the refractory ones. They are distinguished from the GPU only by the fact that they have not yet resorted to spilling blood – as good patriots they husband the workers’ blood for the next imperialist war. Obviously – one must be a most hellish abomination, a moral deformation, a “Kaffir”, a Bolshevik, in order to advise the revolutionary workers to observe the precepts of conspiracy in the struggle against these gentlemen!

    From the point of view of the Belgian laws, my letter did not of course contain anything criminal. The duty of the “democratic” police was to return the letter to the addressee with an apology. The duty of the socialist party was to protest against the raid which had been dictated by concern over General Franco’s interests. But Messrs. Socialists were not at all shy at utilizing the indecent police service without this they could not have enjoyed the happy occasion of once more exposing the superiority of their morals over the amoralism of the Bolsheviks.

    Everything is symbolical in this episode. The Belgian social-democrats dumped the buckets of their indignation upon me exactly while their Norwegian co-thinkers held me and my wife under lock and key in order to prevent us from defending ourselves against the accusations of the GPU. The Norwegian government well knew that the Moscow accusations were spurious the social-democratic semi-official newspaper affirmed this openly during the first days. But Moscow touched the Norwegian ship-owners and fish merchants on the pocketbook – and Messrs. Social-Democrats immediately flopped down on all fours. The leader of the party, Martin Tranmel, is not only an authority in the moral sphere but openly a righteous person: he does not drink, does not smoke, does not indulge in meat and in winter bathes in an ice hole. This did not hinder him, after he had arrested us upon the order of the GPU, from especially inviting a Norwegian agent of the GPU, one Jacob Fries – a bourgeois without honor or conscience — to calumniate me. But enough…

    The morals of these gentlemen consists of conventional precepts and turns of speech which are supposed to screen their interests, appetites and fears. In the majority they are ready for any baseness – rejection of convictions, perfidy, betrayal – in the name of ambition or cupidity. In the holy sphere of personal interests the end to them justifies any means. But it is precisely because of this that they require special codes of morals, durable, and at the same time elastic, like good suspenders. They detest anyone who exposes their professional secrets to the masses. In “peaceful” times their hatred is expressed in slander – in Billingsgate or “philosophical” language. In times of sharp social conflicts, as in Spain, these moralists, hand in hand with the GPU, murder revolutionists. In order to justify themselves, they repeat: “Trotskyism and Stalinism are one and the same.”

    Dialectic Interdependence of End and Means

    A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified. From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man.

    “We are to understand then that in achieving this end anything is permissible?” sarcastically demands the Philistine, demonstrating that he understood nothing. That is permissible, we answer, which really leads to the liberation of mankind. Since this end can be achieved only through revolution, the liberating morality of the proletariat of necessity is endowed with a revolutionary character. It irreconcilably counteracts not only religious dogma but every kind of idealistic fetish, these philosophic gendarmes of the ruling class. It deduces a rule for conduct from the laws of the development of society, thus primarily from the class struggle, this law of all laws.

    “Just the same,” the moralist continues to insist, “does it mean that in the class struggle against capitalists all means are permissible: lying, frame-up, betrayal, murder, and so on?” Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression, teach them contempt for official morality and its democratic echoers, imbue them with consciousness of their own historic mission, raise their courage and spirit of self-sacrifice in the struggle. Precisely from this it flows that not all means are permissible. When we say that the end justifies the means, then for us the conclusion follows that the great revolutionary end spurns those base means and ways which set one part of the working class against other parts, or attempt to make the masses happy without their participation; or lower the faith of the masses in themselves and their organization, replacing it by worship for the “leaders”. Primarily and irreconcilably, revolutionary morality rejects servility in relation to the bourgeoisie and haughtiness in relation to the toilers, that is, those characteristics in which petty bourgeois pedants and moralists are thoroughly steeped.

    These criteria do not, of course, give a ready answer to the question as to what is permissible and what is not permissible in each separate case. There can be no such automatic answers. Problems of revolutionary morality are fused with the problems of revolutionary strategy and tactics. The living experience of the movement under the clarification of theory provides the correct answer to these problems.

    Dialectic materialism does not know dualism between means and end. The end flows naturally from the historical movement. Organically the means are subordinated to the end. The immediate end becomes the means for a further end. In his play, Franz von Sickingen, Ferdinand Lassalle puts the following words into the mouth of one of the heroes:

    … “Show not the goal
    But show also the path. So closely interwoven
    Are path and goal that each with other
    Ever changes, and other paths forthwith
    Another goal set up.”

    Lassalle’s lines are not at all perfect. Still worse is the fact that in practical politics Lassalle himself diverged from the above expressed precept – it is sufficient to recall that he went as far as secret agreements with Bismark! But the dialectic interdependence between means and end is expressed entirely correctly in the above-quoted sentences. Seeds of wheat must be sown in order to yield an ear of wheat.

    Is individual terror, for example, permissible or impermissible from the point of view of “pure morals”? In this abstract form the question does not exist at all for us. Conservative Swiss bourgeois even now render official praise to the terrorist William Tell. Our sympathies are fully on the side of Irish, Russian, Polish or Hindu terrorists in their struggle against national and political oppression. The assassinated Kirov, a rude satrap, does not call forth any sympathy. Our relation to the assassin remains neutral only because we know not what motives guided him. If it became known that Nikolayev acted as a conscious avenger for workers’ rights trampled upon by Kirov, our sympathies would be fully on the side of the assassin. However, not the question of subjective motives but that of objective expediency has for us the decisive significance. Are the given means really capable of leading to the goal? In relation to individual terror, both theory and experience bear witness that such is not the case. To the terrorist we say: it is impossible to replace the masses; only in the mass movement can you find expedient expression for your heroism. However, under conditions of civil war, the assination of individual oppressors ceases to be an act of individual terror. If, we shall say, a revolutionist bombed General Franco and his staff into the air, it would hardly evoke moral indignation even from the democratic eunuchs Under the conditions of civil war a similar act would be politically completely expedient. Thus, even in the sharpest question – murder of man by man – moral absolutes prove futile. Moral evaluations, together with those political, flow from the inner needs of struggle.

    The liberation of the workers can come only through the workers themselves. There is, therefore, no greater crime than deceiving the masses, palming off defeats as victories, friends as enemies, bribing workers’ leaders, fabricating legends, staging false trials, in a word, doing what the Stalinists do. These means can serve only one end: lengthening the domination of a clique already condemned by history. But they cannot serve to liberate the masses. That is why the Fourth International leads against Stalinism a life and death struggle.

    The masses, of course, are not at all impeccable. Idealization of the masses is foreign to us. We have seen them under different conditions, at different stages and in addition in the biggest political shocks. We have observed their strong and weak sides. Their strong side-resoluteness, self-sacrifice, heroism – has always found its clearest expression in times of revolutionary upsurge. During this period the Bolsheviks headed the masses. Afterward a different historical chapter loomed when the weak side of the oppressed came to the forefront: heterogeneity, insufficiency of culture, narrowness of world outlook. The masses tired of the tension, became disillusioned, lost faith in themselves – and cleared the road for the new aristocracy. In this epoch the Bolsheviks (“Trotskyists”) found themselves isolated from the masses. Practically we went through two such big historic cycles: 1897-1905, years of flood tide; 1907-1913 years of the ebb; 1917-1923, a period of upsurge unprecedented in history; finally, a new period of reaction which has not ended even today. In these immense events the “Trotskyists” learned the rhythm of history, that is, the dialectics of the class struggle. They also learned, it seems, and to a certain degree successfully, how to subordinate their subjective plans and programs to this objective rhythm. They learned not to fall into despair over the fact that the laws of history do not depend upon their individual tastes and are not subordinated to their own moral criteria. They learned to subordinate their individual desires to the laws of history. They learnd not to become frightened by the most power enemies if their power is in contradiction to the needs of historical development. They know how to swim against the stream in the deep conviction that the new historic flood will carry them to the other shore. Not all will reach that shore, many will drown. But to participate in this movement with open eyes and with an intense will – only this can give the highest moral satisfaction to a thinking being!”


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 16, 2014 @ 6:22 am

  7. #3 Daniel de Franca — Of course what you say is true but on the other hand the ruling class still refracts it’s TRUTH from the rags that it owns & controls so the NYTimes & the WS Journel is all you and they need to glean from between the lines for the way it is.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 16, 2014 @ 6:36 am

  8. Kuya Samuel:

    Sounds like you’re confusing “shite” from fat meat. Fact is, historically, the Bolshevik Revolution was the 1st to give Women a sense of historic patriarchy (not that it overcame it to be sure), but they also got a sense of suffrage, of the right to Abortion, of Atheist education, of Free Day Care, of Universal Employment, of subsidized food, housing & education, not to mention free health care from cradle to grave.

    Ask any woman toiling today in some tin roof shanty in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil if they’d trade their right to jump on a soapbox to preach whatever popped into their heads for a secure housing, health & education future for their babies and get back to us with the results.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 16, 2014 @ 6:58 am

  9. @Karl Friedrich I don’t understand what you mean.

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 16, 2014 @ 9:11 am

  10. I mean the 1% still rely on media organs that portray some semblance of class reality.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 16, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

  11. So, that means the other 99% will see some resemblance of class reality. Which is bad for the 1% status. No, I wouldn’t fall for that. You could as well believe in the objectivity of RT or Iranian News. Small independent media is OK, but, of course, they tend to be pro Putin, pro Qaddafi, and.. you get the pattern (irony up to here from the last “but”).

    Media is a form of mass control. I would only tend to believe in economic statistics, since the mainstream economics is not able to analyse them properly, since they themselves admit economy is something mysterious.

    Regarding the observation of those poor people. They would accept, but they would not be able to maintain. Misery causes severe psychological trauma. My wife and her mother had to scramble garbage, and she was severely affected (she is on treatment now). Not only she, but people around tend to not have a sense of saving money or planning the future, given this is an unknown and unattainable concept given the extreme scarcity and instability. The only solution is socialism, where people slowly would get a sense of stability and planning for life. Reformist is a self defeating strategy and only fuels the fascist ideas of the right.

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 16, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

  12. After reading all the comments I have this to add/ask: The Disorganized Left has yet to get into the same book when it comes to strategy & tactics pertaining to building a mass sustainable party that is to the left of the Dems. Can’t expect to be on the same page yet due to the continued existence of the various splinter groups and that disease, sectarianism that affects all of us in varying ways that have even minor political experience within ” radical left”. The disease is of course curable thru political practice in real movements. That being said, why no conscious effort to become the radical wing of the greens? PR to just form something that moves beyond the blogsphere and into electoral politics and grassroots activism? We can visibly see the following from the bourgeois press:

    1. There are segments within both the liberal and right-wings of capital that out of desperation to preserve their own interests during the current crisis are open to reforming the system.

    2. The Dems are moving further to the right.

    3. The GOP hasn’t been able to co-opt the Tea Party.

    4. A segment of the ruling class is supporting the Tea Party, which contributes to its sustainability.

    5. Eric Cantor’s loss proves that people are willing to elect and are looking to elect alternatives if presented (as long as the platform is readily accessible) .

    6. Reformist themselves are getting desperate and are running out of ideas and hope. A prime example is Nader’s Left-Right alliance proposal.

    At this point, we need to be doing asking ourselves and each other what is to be done in 2014 and beyond. Those whom have the time to do the research that Louis suggests should do so and make both their conclusions and collected data accessible to the test of us who don’t have the time or skills set to do the same.

    Comment by Jim Brash — June 16, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

  13. Don’t read my posts, please. I’ve only once been to USA, and that’s when my parents took me to Disney World, when I was a teen.

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 16, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

  14. I’m not confusing anything Karl. Lenin’s initial work on the rise of capitalism being promoted as a work of well researched genius was flat out wrong about nearly everything, something that even the author was forced to admit after real life events got in the way of his highly flawed analysis.

    Comment by Kuya Samuel — June 17, 2014 @ 5:56 am

  15. Kuya is correct. Lenin’s work is just flat-out wrong, and does not account for the “distortions” of “classic” capitalist development that dominated relations in land and landed labor in Russia.

    Comment by sartesian — June 19, 2014 @ 1:20 am

  16. So what that Lenin was wrong on this score and that score? What counts in this instance is that he ultimately blundered on the Ukrarnian question. That doesn’t mean that Krondstat was a blunder as it wasn’t. That doesn’t diminish the fact that Lenin impacted the outcome of 20th century politics more than any other individual; that he taught the class conscious toilers of the world that the State is merely armed gangs defending property, that he reminded them of Napoleon’s axiom that a State is an Army on wheels and that God is on the side of the heaviest artilliary;,that capitalist democracies are inherently predatory; that Democracy never prevented a single war; that moral precepts obligatory upon all are fictions of the Bible.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 19, 2014 @ 3:18 am

  17. Oh Karl, you give so much credit to Vladimir what can be left for Josef?

    The issue is this (false) picture of Lenin as democrat– Lenin as flag-bearer of socialist internationalism; Lenin as the practical master of Marxism– that is to say having the ability to convert an accurate, if not prescient a historical materialist analysis of the actual conditions of capitalist development into a strategy for proletarian revolution; while all the time being on the “right side” when it came to the treatment of issues like “national self-determination,” tactical alliances with bourgeois nationalists, etc. etc. etc., even as the “master tactician” of proletarian dictatorship. You can sing your Battle Hymn of the Soviet Republic as loud as you want, but that can’t substitute for making that historical analysis and assessing Lenin’s role in that history.

    Comment by sartesian — June 19, 2014 @ 4:59 am

  18. When in doubt, you follow the chairman.

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 19, 2014 @ 5:05 am

  19. And we might point out that not only was Lenin’s work on the development of capitalism in Russia “shite” as Kuya delicately and accurately put it, so was, and remains, Lenin’s Imperialism.

    Comment by sartesian — June 19, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

  20. I thought what was in contend was the scope of what is Imperialism. We have 2 scenarios with a continuous of positions in between:

    1. Countries (heare meant their economic elite), the US and allies are an imperialism, since they represent the greatest interconnected industrial/financial groups mostly rooted in US. The military counterpart of it is NATO. Both are trying to expand while synchronize its area of influence. The other countries, that is, “not rooted in US”, try to resist this process of assimilation as much as possible. The abstract work of the workers of their area of influence goes increasingly more to the “NATO” than to their own elites. So, an anti imperialist should ally, momentarily, with these elites, since they have in common a bigger enemy.

    2. Workers of any area should be supported, period, since they are all under capitalism, which at this day an age a single imperialist bloc, and so their interests should be what matters for a socialist, and we should not look at things as they were a grand international chessboard. The grand international chessboard is only alienation and only looking at the surface of things.

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 19, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

  21. Sartesian. Is it possible your reading of 20th century history skipped Isaac Deutscher’s “Trilogy’?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 20, 2014 @ 2:36 am

  22. KF– didn’t skip it. Enjoyed reading it 45 years ago. Just didn’t think it was the last word on the history of that period, and certainly does not confront the inaccuracies, and distortions in Lenin’s rendering of agricultural relations in Russia, or the glaring weaknesses in the pamphlet on Imperialism. Nor does it confront the limits to, and the inadequacies of the “Bolshevik model” for international revolution, which, given the record of the Third International, from 1919 on has proven itself to be no model at all.

    Comment by sartesian — June 20, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

  23. Sartesian, would you mind talking about the weaknesses of each point, mainly the part concerning imperialism and agricultural relations on russia?

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 20, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

  24. Right Sartesian @ 22. As you know then from your ancient sage wisdom It’s one thing to make a revolution and quite another to sustain it. The “Model” T was a revolution back in the day but it’s insuffciencies for modern transportation are glaring. That’s not Henry Ford’s fault.

    Compared to the history of automotive engineering the history of class struggle places Lenin, whatever his faults, in the same kind of place as Henry Ford.

    Lenin still remains the most important figure in 20th Century politics bar none. Thanks to Lenin the Bolshevik Revolution not only shook the bourgeois world to its foundations but was an economic model that 70% of the planet (100% brown people) aspired to that century. It withstood against all odds 70 years of cold war & enmity (from primarily white people) and endured all the while blockade & imperialist encirclement and yet still built from the ruins of World War devastation the largest industrial capacity outside of the USA over a land mass encompassing a dozen time zones & 100 languages — all the while aspiring to free Atheist education through college with nominal deference given to women, peasants & ethnic minorities, universal free health care, subsidized food & free bread, full employment and a Constitution that prohibited factory workers from paying more than 5% in wages for rent.

    Moreover after 1959 it bought sugar from places like Cuba for MORE than the world market value in exchange for the crude oil countries like Cuba desperately needed for LESS than the world market value and the same basic subsidies applied in aid to China during its revolution as well as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia & Nicaragua. It was the bad apple that threatened to spoil the whole imperialist barrel — Spain & Greece while Stalin was still breathing notwithstanding.

    It’s one thing to criticize and another to prescribe “What is to be Done?”

    As Trotsky quoted Lasalle in “Their Morals & Ours” (which you might want to refresh after 45 years) http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/morals/morals.htm

    … “Show not the goal
    But show also the path. So closely interwoven
    Are path and goal that each with other
    Ever changes, and other paths forthwith
    Another goal set up.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 21, 2014 @ 1:39 am

  25. Daniel @ 23. The last time I read, and wrote about, Lenin’s Imperialism was 10 years ago. It may be of interest, and again, it may not. Excuse the shameless self-advertising but it’s at: http://thewolfatthedoor.blogspot.com/2004/11/imperialism-reconsidered-reposted_16.html.

    As for Lenin’s Development of Capitalism in Russia– that will take some digging through old notebooks, because that was about 30 years ago; but IIRC, there’s one thing that stood out which was that Lenin’s numbers for an l agricultural proletariat in the 1890s were much higher than the actual numbers recorded 10, 15 years later. Lenin’s argument is that in essence, capitalist agricultural relations had triumphed in Russia, that the peasantry was a proto-capitalist class interested only in private property. That just doesn’t stand up. First, Lenin mistakes the commerce of the grain trade on the markets and Russian agriculture’s role in that trade as capitalist. Exchange is not an automatic marker, a proxy, for capitalist relations of production. I believe in 1905, the agrarian revolts were NOT about “private property”- about “land to the (individual) producers”– but were about restoring the collective use of land as was long established in the Russian countryside. Russian peasant production was “subsistence plus” production and not at all capitalist production where ALL the product must offered for exchange in order to reproduce the condition under which labor is performed.

    Again it’s been a long while, but Chayanov’s book on the peasant commune explores this.

    KF: Perfect, Lenin is kind of in the same place as Henry Ford. Gee that’s swell. So do we abstract Ford’s Model T or his assembly production model from the social exploitation that it required and engendered? Perhaps we can have a little Lenin village parallel to Ford’s “Inkster”– so named because he had it built for black workers. Tres charmant. All Power to the soviets gets placed across from All power to the assembly line wages on the banners of workers’ revolt.

    It, the weakness of your argument, is all summed up in this “Lenin still remains the most important figure of the 20th century bar none…” as if that were the issue, as if that ever WAS the issue. Who cares? We’re not running a hit parade here. First, classes, not individuals make history; classes are the most important figures of the 18th, 19th, 20th centuries. Secondly,this is the 21st century.

    Comment by sartesian — June 21, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

  26. I agree that there was a general lack of understand of rural relationships in Central Asia (and part of Russia), not only of Lenin, but of the general marxists. It seems it was noted by Mao, though I cannot find if he ever made explicit, which did quite the opposite strategy, raising mostly the rural peasants. Of course, as I said above, there is a continuum between a game of chess and supporting any worker movement. In Russia case, it ended up in grave conflicts with peasants. In China (and I think it happened in some other places), not taking more seriously the learning curve of technical process, led to economic failures failures. Also, the playing of chess led to catastrophic failures in not long term, since without China and Russia not cooperating for the sake of the population benefit, and seeking an advantage in the global leadership of socialist movement, led China to open to capitalism, and Russia with too many resources dedicated to arms race. I won’t dwell into cars, because this is an annoying thing.

    Well, the thing I can’t understand from first worlders it is the violation of the most basic aspect of marxist economic theory, the value theory of work. For example, the value added to a commodity is proportional to the median time a worker spent on it, the total value being the advanced capital to buy raw materials, replace worn (morally or physically) constant material and other expenses. When I say worker, we know that we can be talking about the whole collective of a plant or abstract to the workers of an entire nation. The same goes to the capitalists, and since they don’t add value, they can even abstracted to an anonymous society or several banks holding stock bonds or share. Since national boundaries and laws are abstract entities, which nonetheless get in the way of class consciousness. So, there is nothing stopping that an entire nation working as value enablers, that is, one nation that is 1 worker, and another one which just an anonymous society, 1 capitalist. One nation just living off enough to keep living at the barest minimum to continue working and another 1 capitalist living from the surplus of that individual.

    Of course, reality is more complicated, since such divisions of labor can happen between individuals inside a plant and regions of a country. But, in the end, you have the situation in which a nation exports more value under its price and another that sells, even back to the exporter, at market value. It may happen that a country may have a large deficit in trade plus luxury expands and yet, have a growth in GDP. This doesn’t show up in any statistics without a deeper analysis in exports and imports in terms of working hours. If that is done, we see that, say, ~70% of US GDP is from import of abstract work.

    A useful link:


    There is a table there in an excel format, to see how this work in the case I just mentioned.

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 21, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

  27. I forgot one thing. Wasn’t one of the assumptions of Marx that even in a primitive communist economy, even though commodities were exchanged in terms of subjective use value, if given a large sample, they’d tend to uphold the law of value? Once I saw a documentary about the life of one such community in the Congo river basin. While it was about their daily life, the moment they went to trade things in a small market, the values were fixed. It was not barter, they used the national money, but it seemed a good approximation nevertheless. . It seems shells or stones of a certain type, was used before european colonization, (that I saw in exposition about history of money).

    Comment by Daniel de França — June 21, 2014 @ 10:15 pm

  28. Comment by lenin — February 25, 2015 @ 3:38 am

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