Joel Geier’s talk on “Leninism vs. Zinovievism” at the Socialism 2013 conference is a welcome attempt to recover the Bolshevik model of democratic centralism from the undemocratic practices introduced into the Communist International following Lenin’s death. It is, unfortunately, a failed attempt. As this short polemical reply will show, Geier’s argument is infected with the very disease he means to cure. The comrade makes at least two major errors:
- He asserts that the leadership should be a (permanent) faction; and
- He asserts that “multi-issue” or permanent (opposition) factions are intrinsically illegitimate.
As a result of these serious mistakes, Geier does not overcome Zinovievism; he merely constructs a kind of “Zinovievism with a human face.” Our movement can and must do better.
SocialistWorker.org has in the last several days hosted one of its most remarkable exchanges in recent–or even distant–memory on a series of issues related to the theory and practice of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Although I am, regrettably, no longer a member of the ISO, I am rather “implicated” in the debate, so some comrades may be interested in what I think about it; and in any event, it behooves all revolutionaries to take an interest in what the ISO is interested in.
If you have not been following the discussion, here is a “cheat list” of articles and letters, in chronological order:
- “The contradictions of August 24” (Shaun Joseph, 8/6)
- “Understanding the united front” (Paul D’Amato, 8/13)
- “Limitations of the united front” (MB, 8/21)
- “The ongoing relevance of the united front” (Paul D’Amato, 8/22)
- “Why national marches still matter” (Paul Heideman, 8/22)
- “Liberalism and the united front” (Keith Rosenthal, 8/27)
- “Marches, Marxism and the united front” (Adam Turl, 9/3)
- “Our past should inform our present” (Alan Maass, 9/4)
- “Liberalism, reformism and the united front” (Todd Chretien, 9/5)
More is hopefully forthcoming, but this set of writings will inform my response here. Each piece is relatively lengthy, and each raises a complex set of issues that are not fully addressed in any subsequent piece. In this sense the whole sequence may strike one as frustrating or abstract, but I think it repays sympathetic attention, since comrades are clearly “pulling the threads” of the discussion with unusual boldness, and saying things that have been on their minds for some time.
Virtually all writing on democratic centralism is boring. This is true. So why write about it? Well, one must do the done thing. More ominously, you may consider this a kind of apologia ex ante for what I plan to get up to on this blog.
The recent discussion on democratic centralism, at least in the International Socialist (IS) niche of the Trotskyist corner of the cubbyhole of the revolutionary left, has been sparked off by the accelerated degeneration of the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Here, I think, we have mostly grabbed the stick by the wrong end. The organizational problems of the SWP–which are assuredly legion–are, in my view, derivative of a major crisis of strategy (or “perspectives” in the IS argot) that extend back at least to the election of Blair, if not the fall of the USSR. The similitude with the decline of the American SWP (no relation) is striking: when the perspective is wrong, yet somehow cannot be corrected, its “implementation” can only be directed by people who do not directly encounter its consequences, be they disconnected leaders or passive hand-raisers.
The demand to rehearse the timeless verities of democratic centralism in such a situation is manifestly self-serving on the part of the leadership faction; rather than discuss the obligation of comrades to follow the line, one should discuss the obligation of the line to follow reality. In any event, is it not after all typical that the quantity of discussion of democratic centralism is inversely proportional to the quality of understanding?