WeeklyWorker

08.10.2020
Petrograd soviet 1917. In the capital, the Bolsheviks won a clear majority by the summer. In more distant parts of the country, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks sometimes operated in the same committees.

Programmeless liquidationism

Neil Faulkner’s interpretation of Lenin is based on stunningly bad history, argues Mike Macnair

This is the second part of my examination of the debate between Neil Faulkner of Mutiny and Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty on the party question.1 As I argued at the outset, both authors’ conceptions of what the history of Marxist politics tells us about the ‘party question’ are poisoned by unwillingness to really interrogate the traditions of their own political backgrounds - and by personality-cult ‘great men’ approaches to the history. Already visible in Faulkner’s first part, on ‘Marx’s theory of the party’, which I looked at last week, the ‘great men’ approach is equally visible in his second part, on ‘Lenin’s theory of the party’.

As with Faulkner’s Marx, his Lenin exists only at a few pivotal moments, which are quite inaccurately described, with startling leaps between them. The three moments are the 1902 pamphlet, What is to be done?, and - related in Faulkner’s version - the 1903 split in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party; the 1912 Prague conference of the RSDLP, considered as a split (merely mentioned); and the formation of the Communist International in 1919-20.

The lesson which we are supposed to learn from Faulkner’s Lenin is, essentially, the organisational separation of ‘revolutionaries’ from ‘reformists’ (though how these groups are to be defined politically for Faulkner remains very unclear). This ‘lesson’ is, essentially, a dogma of the Cliffite tradition from the time of the International Socialists’ abandonment of Labour Party entry work under the 1964-70 Wilson government.2

Faulkner begins with the symmetrical ‘cold war’ mythical narratives of the origins of Bolshevism in Lenin’s What is to be done? and 1903: both for ‘official communists’ and for liberals and anarchists, WITBD and 1903 represented the creation of a militarised, top-down centralist, activist ‘party of a new type’ - the ‘democratic centralist vanguard party’. This ‘Leninism’ supposedly led to Stalinism: both for Stalinists, who celebrated it, and for liberals and anarchists, who damned it. For some reason (which Faulkner only attempts to explain in the third article) the Trotskyists also swallowed this conception. He argues:

This conception is still with us. It has now evolved and degenerated to the point of Life of Brian parody, where small organisations of a few thousand at the most - sometimes only a few hundred, even tiny outfits of 50 or so - imagine themselves to be the embryo of an early 21st century Bolshevik Party.

Small organisations of this kind exist in all periods. Mass revolutionary parties, on other hand, are never like this. There are no historic examples of a revolutionary party emerging from a democratic-centralist sect through what has sometimes been called ‘the primitive accumulation of cadre’. Not one.

This argument muddles two radically different issues. The first, which the ‘party of a new type’ line addresses, is what practical form of organisation will work for workers’ political organisations which aim to overthrow capitalism. This ‘party of a new type’ idea developed in reality in 1918-21, though the myth ‘retrojected’ it onto 1902-03.

The second issue is whether a mass workers’ party with revolutionary aims can emerge by “primitive accumulation of cadre”3: ie, whether small groups can develop into mass parties merely by recruiting individuals. The answer comrade Faulkner gives in this quotation could consequently have one of two meanings: either ‘democratic centralism’ blocks the emergence of a mass party; or (irrespective of ‘democratic centralism’) such a party can never emerge by individual recruitment to a small group. In either case the argument is plainly false: witness the emergence of rather significant mass communist parties in the colonial and semi-colonial ‘third world’.

The escape route could be that such parties were not “revolutionary” in comrade Faulkner’s sense. But then, in that sense there has been no mass “revolutionary party” ever, since even the Bolsheviks do not qualify (their leadership included opponents of their October 1917 seizure of power; radical separation between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the base only developed in limited areas before 1917 itself). Hence on this interpretation, the negative evidence becomes an unimpressive argument, since there is no positive example.

There is a true statement which could be created by ‘reading down’ comrade Faulkner’s claim until it fits the evidence. It is this: “There is no case where a small group has leaped to a mass party by individual recruitment where there was an existing workers’ party, parties or groups already in existence.

The reason why this read-down statement is true is, of course, the point already made in my article last week. The proletariat as a class has an extremely powerful interest in common action among people who have political disagreements - which is necessary to trade unions and all other sorts of workers’ organisations. Hence, setting yourselves up in organisational competition with existing workers’ organisations to recruit individuals is a sure-fire route to marginality unless you have a very clear political explanation of why you have to be separate.

Left wholly on one side here, of course, is the question what a party is for. This issue was, in fact, addressed by Lenin’s What is to be done? - arguing that it was precisely for political action of the working class, as opposed to the arguments of the ‘economists’. But the myth marginalises this point, and so does comrade Faulkner.

WITBD?

If 1902-03 did not stand for the mythical party of a new type, what did these events stand for? Comrade Faulkner begins with the correct statement that the Bolsheviks (and, he should have added, the core of the Mensheviks too!) saw the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) as a “model socialist party”. But he immediately blunders by characterising the 1891 Erfurt programme - a 1,310-word summary of the political basis of the SPD4 - as “a book-length treatise on the perspective and strategy” of the SPD. He is here confusing the programme the SPD voted on, with Karl Kautsky’s 1892 book Das Erfurter Programm in seinem grundsätzlichen Teil erläutert (‘The basic principles section of the Erfurt programme explained’) - later translated into English in an abridged form under the misleading name The class struggle.5

The blunder is understandable, but symptomatic. Understandable, because comrade Faulkner’s July interlocutors from the Red Flag group are politically linked to the League for the Fifth International, whose 2019 programme is 23,609 words long and consists mainly of analysis of the current economic and political situation and theoretical claims.6 Symptomatic, because it shows that comrade Faulkner’s assumptions about what a ‘programme’ means have prevented him from doing very elementary web research into the Erfurt programme. This error is also reflected in his treatment of 1903.

Comrade Faulkner cites as “further reading” Lars T Lih’s short biography, Lenin. It is presumably from here that he gets the understanding that Russian Social Democracy sought to imitate the SPD. But he has made no use, as far as I can see, of Lih’s earlier and elaborate treatment of 1900-03, WITBD and the 1903 congress in Lenin rediscovered: ‘What is to be done?’ in context.7 It is not as though the book is obscure; it has been reviewed and discussed all over the leftwing web.8

It is, of course, acceptable to disagree with Lih’s arguments in Lenin rediscovered.9 But Faulkner’s treatment of WITBD and the 1903 congress does not attempt to argue against Lih: it merely tries to escape the conclusions of the myth that Lih criticised, without breaking with most of the substantive content of that myth. To disagree with Lih’s arguments could be a serious contribution to debate; to ignore them, when writing in 2020, is just plain sloppy.

Faulkner writes as if WITBD was written before the launch of Iskra in 1900, rather than - as it was - in response to the failed attempt in 1901 to unify Iskra with the rival ‘Erfurtian’ journal Rabochoe Delo, after the stunning success of Iskra among the underground activists in 1900-01. He claims: “When Lenin returned from exile to active politics in 1899, he had a fully worked out strategy for building such a party in Russia” - a very questionable argument10; and one which also misses out the prior growth of German-model social democratic politics, reflected in the abortive attempt to hold a congress to found the RSDLP in 1898.

Faulkner presents WITBD as an argument against ‘economism’ (which it is); but he fails to see the links Lenin made between this Russian trend and the rightwing British ‘pure trade unionists’ and the German revisionists. Instead he links it to the favourite Trotskyist bogeyman: ‘stagism’. The arguments in WITBD about ‘spontaneity’ (stikhiinost, which Lih argues is wrongly translated) disappear altogether.

Then the organisational aspect of the text is, for Faulkner, purely an argument for the paper as a technical instrument to unify a party (for this purpose Faulkner has two proof-texts) and the need for tight konspiratsiia technical organisation run from the centre (for this purpose Faulkner has one proof-text). As I indicated at the end of my first article, there is some similarity in the latter aspect to the German Vertrauensmänner and related arrangements, run from the centre to link with localities, in the period of Social Democrat illegality in 1878-90.11

Faulkner jumps to the 1903 congress (to be looked at below), before returning (under the subhead, ‘Elitist or democrat’) to the ‘scandalous’ passages, in which Lenin argues that “class-political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without: that is, only from outside the economic struggle …” and so on. Faulkner argues:

The clunky formulation in What is to be done? is refuted by almost the whole of the rest of Lenin’s theory and practice ... And for good reason: it is sectarian nonsense, which violates the central insight of Marxism that the working class itself is the agent of revolutionary transformation.

There follows an argument that “socialists learn from the struggle”, using Marx on the Paris Commune as the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin on the mass strike and soviets (a very muddled account) and Trotsky on ‘permanent revolution’. The latter was allegedly “demonstrated in practice by the workers before it could be crystallised in theory” - which is plain nonsense, given that Trotsky’s original joint article with Parvus, which nearly inaugurated the idea, was written at the beginning of the revolution of 1905, before the workers had demonstrated anything in practice other than willingness to strike on a large scale in protest.12

Missing altogether from Faulkner’s account is the fact - pointed out by Lih - that Lenin’s “clunky formulation” is based on an argument which is a straight lift from Kautsky; and that what it is doing in Kautsky is discussing formulations in the draft revision of the Austrian party programme, which Kautsky considered threatened to lead to a vision of socialist development as automatistic without any place for human choices.13 In which case there would be no need for a workers’ party at all (or, indeed, if you really pushed the point, for any forms of organisation beyond strike committees).

Kautsky’s formulas are indeed unsatisfactory, and so are Lenin’s here (as Lih acknowledges): it is illusory to imagine that Marx and Engels dreamed up their politics out of their own heads and ‘took them to’ the workers, since they are a development of the ideas already current in left Chartism, as pointed out in my first article. And so on. But they were a development of these ideas, and also drew on material about anthropology, history and political economy not easily available to worker-autodidacts, so that they are not only a crystallisation of theory out of the experience of the class struggle. There is an interplay between the mass movement, the activist minority and the class traitors from the intelligentsia who attach themselves to the workers’ movement against the large majority of their own class.

There is another side to this last point which is worth remembering, because Kautsky repeated his argument about scientific socialism coming to the working class ‘from outside’ for use against rightwing German trade union bureaucrats, who wanted to shut up leftist intellectuals (like Kautsky and other Neue Zeit authors) on the ground that “the working class itself is the agent of revolutionary transformation”. Actually, the labour bureaucracy is a segment of the intelligentsia, merely differing in class origin from the general intelligentsia (and hence not differing at all, for example, from working class kids who manage to get into ‘elite’ universities and acculturate). It is better to answer the bureaucrats by pointing to the bureaucrats’ own separation from the grunts at the workface than by artificially playing up the separation of Marx and Engels (and subsequent left intellectuals) from the workers’ movement.

1903

Given that comrade Faulkner started by rejecting the symmetrical cold war myths about 1903, it is then startling that he should precisely reproduce the core of these myths. He tells us that “the other part of Lenin’s plan - to make the party more police-resistant - proved far more problematic: it was, in fact, the origin of a factional dispute that would divide the party for more than a decade.” And:

Though issues became tangled and allegiances shifted, in the succession of rows that divided the Second Congress can be detected a fundamental difference between those who sought compromises with others and those whose aim was proletarian revolution.

The most significant argument arose over a seemingly minor issue: the definition of a party member.

This is, in fact, the absolute core of the standard myths.

It has been known since 1967 at the latest - eg, from Israel Getzler’s biography of Martov14 - that the split did not take place over the definition of membership in the party rules. Since Martov won the vote on the issue, it would have had to be Lenin who made a split against it; and the stenographic minutes translated by Brian Pearce in 1975 show that Lenin said precisely that this was not a split issue: “I do not at all consider our difference so vital as to be a matter of life and death for our party”.15 As several authors have pointed out, the Mensheviks abandoned Martov’s formulation in autumn 1905 as unworkable; and it was never resurrected.

Although it is not apparent in the literature I have read on 1903, it seems that Martov’s unworkable formula may have been addressed to the circumstances of the Georgian social democrats. Having set out to build a workers’ party, from May 1902 on they found themselves catapulted into the leadership of a mass peasant movement in Guria (in south-western Georgia); and initially they tried to respond to the mass peasant demand to join the party by creating a sort of ‘membership’ which did not actually involve full rights.16 Georgian leader Noe Zhordania, arguing at the congress for Martov’s formula, relates the point precisely to the Georgians’ involvement in leading a mass movement, and argued in this context against a requirement that members paid dues (on this issue he lost).17 By 1905 the Georgians had capitulated to peasants joining the party with full membership, and both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks had embarked on mass recruitment; the adoption in Germany of a formula similar to Lenin’s at the September 1905 Jena SPD Parteitag must have made it easier for the Mensheviks to abandon Martov’s formula.18

Rather, the immediate cause of the split was that Lenin won a majority in a late session of the congress, (after the Jewish Bund and the Rabochee Delo group had walked out) for reducing the editorial board of Iskra from six (Axelrod, Plekhanov, Zasulich from the ‘older generation’; Lenin, Martov, Potresov from the younger) to three - Lenin, Martov and Plekhanov. The opponents of this proposal, including Martov, then announced a boycott of the editorial board. After the congress, Plekhanov demanded the restoration of the original EB, deadlocked the EB until Lenin resigned and a new EB based on the congress minority, without Lenin, was created.

Contrary to the expectations of the makers of this coup, it turned out that Lenin had too much support among the clandestine organisers in Russia to be disposed of in this way - and hence the result was, in 1903-04, the emergence of the ‘majoritarian’ (‘Bolshevik’) and ‘minoritarian’ (‘Menshevik’) factions, partially separately organised.19

What lay behind this immediate cause is debated. The myth said that it followed immediately from the dispute over the basis of party membership. Getzler argued that Martov had become hostile to Lenin’s personal (im)morality over a case which involved Bauman, one of Lenin’s agents in Russia, having a ‘love her and leave her’ affair with a woman comrade, resulting in her committing suicide. In relation to this Lenin and Plekhanov refused to break off relations with Bauman; the proposal to remove Axelrod, Potresov and Zasulich then appeared as confirmation of Lenin’s personal disloyalty. In favour of this view is Martov’s persistent unwillingness to break decisively with personal friends over political differences, which is apparent throughout Getzler’s biography and was particularly paralysing to Martov’s political action in 1917.

Lih, on the other hand, argues that the Mensheviks thought that the stability of the leadership (meaning the Iskra EB) was more important than the sovereignty of a perhaps underrepresentative congress; they embraced the name ‘minority’ because they thought the minority was the same thing as the vanguard: the advanced part of the party.

We can, I think, add to this - again - the Georgian Social Democrats’ move into leading mass actions on issues considerably distant from the formal party programme.20 This was, I suggest, reflected late in the congress by Martov’s (successful) proposal that Iskra should be turned into an ‘agitational’ paper, among other means by eliminating ‘theoretical’ articles (against Lenin’s opposition).21 It looks slightly as though the success of the Georgians had led Martov to regret the breaks which had happened earlier in the congress with the more ‘agitationist’ Rabochee Delo and Bund (and indeed, after the split, Trotsky’s Our political tasks polemic in favour of Menshevism was violently ‘agitationist’). This implied a break with Lenin’s insistence on the party’s focus on the specifically political.

It is in any case utterly senseless for Faulkner to detect in these disputes “a fundamental difference between those who sought compromises with others and those whose aim was proletarian revolution”. This is no more than the repetition of the myth of 1902‑03. Both sides sought the overthrow of the tsarist regime; both sides had the long-run aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism. This was not a ‘broad front’ party based on immediate agitational demands: both sides agreed that there was no basis for anything more than temporary tactical unity between the social democrats and the ‘socialist revolutionaries’, who argued for a peasant-led revolution - Axelrod’s resolution on the issue being passed with none against and one abstention.22

In this context, Faulkner’s silence as to the larger part of the proceedings of the 1903 congress is also symptomatic. Of the pages of the stenographic minutes translated by Pearce, almost a third are addressed to the discussion of the party programme. Some way behind this comes 15% on the draft rules (of which the difference on the membership rule was a small part). Thus a lot of the business of the congress was the production of the party programme, and this common programme afterwards formed the basis of the continued identification of both majority-ites and minority-ites as ‘RSDLP’.23

Another 15% of pages were occupied by the question of the Bund, which made what would nowadays be called an ‘intersectional’ demand that the Bund should be recognised as the only legitimate voice of Jewish workers, and withdrew from the congress when this demand was rejected.24 Two topics each attracted 11%: credentials, agenda and related matters; and the extent to which various other local and sectoral organisations should be recognised or incorporated in the new RSDLP. Faulkner’s final subhead in his ‘Lenin’ article – ‘Tribunes of the oppressed’ - gives proof-texts from WITBD for the idea that the party should act as a “tribune of the people”. But he altogether ignores the thorny issues about the problems of decision-making and the class nature of the party, which were posed by ‘movements of the oppressed’ and discussed at length in 1903 - both in this context and in that of the ‘agrarian programme’.

1903 ... 1912

From 1903, comrade Faulkner’s account leaps to 1912, when he tells us:

Bolsheviks and Mensheviks continued to meet together in local RSDLP branches - in some cases until as late as the middle of 1917. Lenin avoided an irrevocable break at the top until 1912. When this came, the Bolsheviks had an overwhelming four-to-one majority inside the party; their supporters, moreover, were almost 90% working class, in contrast to those of the Mensheviks, more than half of whom were middle class.

Even so, Lenin still saw his task as building a mass working class party on the European social democratic model. He had not yet generalised the split between revolutionaries and reformists in Russia to the rest of Europe.

The first sentence quoted here is plainly correct. But then it makes the second sentence of the second paragraph into nonsense: there was not yet in 1917 a full “split between revolutionaries and reformists”. Indeed, in October Bolshevik leaders Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev denounced the impending seizure of power in the capitalist press; Lenin proposed their expulsion, but the Bolshevik CC - pretty certainly rightly - rejected the proposal.25 On the one hand, the incompleteness of the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks as of early-mid 1917 did not prevent the Bolsheviks leading the seizure of power in October. On the other hand, to the extent that there was a radical organisational split - as was true at least in Petrograd - it did not prevent leading Bolsheviks pursuing an anti-revolutionary line.

In fact, the brief mention of 1912 is also false. The 1912 Prague Conference was regarded on the Menshevik side as a splitting action, by appropriating the name and organisational forms of the party for an unrepresentative event.26 From the Bolshevik side, it was reorganising the party’s structures by Bolsheviks together with a minority of ‘pro-party’ Mensheviks, against the ‘liquidators’, who wanted to close down the illegal party in favour of a legal broad-front party like the British Labour Party.27 The large Bolshevik majority at Prague therefore merely represented the non-participation of most pro-Menshevik groups.

The reference to class composition is taken from Lenin’s analysis of the votes cast for Bolshevik and Menshevik candidates in the 1912 duma elections: while it is certainly true that the Bolsheviks won workers’ curia in these class-stratified indirect-voting elections, while the Mensheviks won mainly ‘urban’ - ie, middle class curia - this is at most symptomatic of the class support of the two trends; and in fact the Mensheviks, and indeed the ‘liquidators’, were probably stronger in the limited legal trade unions.28

But what has happened to the events in the middle? That is, the revolutionary crisis of 1905 (!); the adoption of the ‘democratic centralism’ formula by both factions of the party in that year; the reunification of the RSDLP at the Stockholm congress in 1906, with a Menshevik and Bundist majority at the congress; the London congress of 1907, when the withdrawal of the Bund and the coalition of the Poles with the Bolsheviks produced a partial Bolshevik majority; Lenin’s partial bloc with the Mensheviks on participation in the duma elections and split with the Bolshevik boycottists round Bogdanov and others who organised themselves round Vpered. Why is comrade Faulkner silent on this part of the history?

The answer, I think, has to be two elements. The first is that 1906-07 is, as Lars T Lih has argued, the first of two periods in which Lenin actually used the formula ‘democratic centralism’.29 This does not fit comfortably with Faulkner’s dismissive claim in his third article that “references to the concept in Lenin’s works are few, and most of these few post-date 1917”.

The second is that any actual examination of the political history of the RSDLP and the party conceptions involved which led up to 1912 (and, indeed, continued in 1912-14) would show that 1912 was not a final split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, but a Bolshevik-led group (including ‘party Mensheviks’, but without Vpered and ‘Bolshevik conciliators’) attempting to reconstruct the RSDLP party structures against the ‘liquidators’. And what the ‘liquidators’ wanted to liquidate was not workers’ organisation as such, but the organisation of a social democratic party: that is, one based on a summary programme for the political overthrow of the state power. ‘Liquidationism’ was, in short - so far as it succeeded - the triumph of the ‘economism’ of the 1890s and the ‘spontaneism’ of Rabochee Delo.

But, put another way, that means that what the liquidators sought was to build broad-front organisations which got rid of the constitutional revolutionism of the 1903 RSDLP party programme: that is, formations like the Labour Party - and like the various ‘broad left’ formations which the British far left has attempted to create in the last 30 years as a Labour Party mark two - Socialist Labour Party, Scottish Socialist Party, Socialist Alliance, Respect …

In this period, Faulkner’s problem is, as with many modern far-leftists trying to use Lenin as an icon, that his actual political line - advocating a ‘broad’ mass party without a political platform - is that of Lenin’s opponents.

Comintern

From 1912 Faulkner leaps, in effect, to the foundation of the Communist International in 1919, and indeed to the Second Congress in 1920 and its ideas about the leading role of the party in the proletarian revolution, and about the ‘21 conditions’, which set out to finalise the split with the social-chauvinists and centrists - though the account has almost no concrete history. Instead, we are told that “The First Congress of the Third International in March 1919 was the culmination of an organisational struggle between reform and revolution that had begun in 1903” - again a version of the myth comrade Faulkner denounced at the beginning of his article. And:

‘A party of a new type’ did not spring from the head of Lenin in his Siberian exile: mass revolutionary parties separate from mass reformist parties emerged in the course of the great European revolutionary wave that swept the continent between 1917 and 1923. ‘Give us an organisation of revolutionaries,’ Lenin had said, ‘and we will overturn Russia.’ The Third International was the generalisation of this Bolshevik experience onto the scale of world revolution.

Marx and Engels had argued for a mass, independent, working class party. Lenin and the Bolsheviks came to stand for a mass, independent, working class, revolutionary party. This - not ‘democratic centralism’ or ‘the primitive accumulation of cadre’ - was the critical difference.

What follows is not history at all, but an explanation of the need for the split on two grounds. The first is the labour bureaucracy, as playing an intermediating role in capitalist society and “therefore a conservative barrier to working class self-activity”; the second is that “reformism is anchored in the routines and common-sense thinking of everyday life” - a vulgarised sub-Lukácsian argument for street-ism and strike-ism.

There are no ‘proof-texts’ offered here; because neither of these arguments is actually in Lenin’s or Zinoviev’s arguments for a split with the social-patriots and centrists in 1914-17, or in those of 1919.30 Rather, the main arguments in this context was that ‘opportunists’, in the sense of career politicians who had attached themselves to the workers’ movement, had managed to take over, and a split was needed to purge them; so far as they were seen to have a social base, it was believed to be the “labour aristocracy”.

Faulkner’s second line of argument could be drawn by elaboration from the arguments of Zinoviev’s Theses on the role of the communist party in the proletarian revolution and his introduction to them, at the 1920 Second Congress of Comintern.31

But the context of the 1920 arguments is the idea that the party has to represent the more backward masses. This idea became necessary because there was no majority in the soviets for accepting the German peace terms at Brest-Litovsk, with the result that carrying through the Brest-Litovsk treaty forced the Bolsheviks to turn their majority-backed soviet coalition with the Left SRs into a Bolshevik minority dictatorship over the soviets, rig or suppress soviet elections, and so on. It does not seem likely that Faulkner actually supports this view. His attachment to these arguments is not the result of any research in the Comintern proceedings or Lenin’s writings: he merely assumes that SWP writers must have got the interpretation he gives right.

Why stop, as Faulkner does, at 1921? The answer is that the development of the idea of the united front in 1921-22 and the elaborations made at the 1922 Fourth Congress of Comintern may not have been intended to call into question the idea that the split was necessary to separate reformists and revolutionaries organisationally, but it certainly does do so. In order to reach the masses led by the social democrats, communists are urged to enter into agreements with the social democratic leaders for limited common action (on the basis of freedom of dissent: a basis which the social democrats never conceded, and which Comintern in 1936 abandoned).In sum, just as Faulkner’s version of Marx and Engels was violently inaccurate both by suppressio veri and by suggestio falsi, so is his version of Lenin. It is not simplified history, but stunningly bad history. And in this case, Faulkner cuts out from Lenin his actual substantive politics. By doing so, it reduces Lenin to a figure who justifies the need for ‘revolutionaries’ to split from ‘reformists’ - without any sense of what the political difference between these two camps might be. Indeed, it is worse: Faulkner’s programmeless party, which responds merely to the spontaneous mass actions of the class, is a Menshevik and a liquidator project. If Lenin had been allowed into his grave, he would be turning in it.

mike.macnair@weeklyworker.co.uk


  1. For the first part, see ‘High politics and the working class’ Weekly Worker October 1.↩︎

  2. Contemporaries writing on the history do not give a more precise date. Ian Birchall, writing in 1975, seems to make 1968 the decisive date: marxists.architexturez.net/history/etol/writers/birchall/1975/03/histis.html; and marxists.architexturez.net/history/etol/writers/birchall/1975/04/histis2.html. Martin Shaw in 1978 talks of a gradual withdrawal in 1965-66: (‘The making of a party: the International Socialists 1965-1976’ Socialist Register 1978 pp100-45).↩︎

  3. I am unclear where the expression, “primitive accumulation of cadre”, comes from. Googling produces attribution to Lenin, without a source reference, which is frankly implausible, and to Cliff, equally without a source reference, which is perfectly possible, but no more. It sounds like an expression belonging to James P Cannon or one of his co-thinkers. It seems likely that what the expression originally meant is the recruitment of enough individuals, not to amount to a mass party, but to be able to act politically on a scale which can influence sections of the trade unions or existing mass parties, and hence open up the possibility of future splits and fusions and thereafter future mass recruitment. The problem it addresses is that the 1940s Trotskyists had (allegedly) not sufficiently ‘primitively accumulated cadre’ for their ideas to have any impact, even on the much larger communist parties. The confusion may have arisen from Ian Birchall’s 1981 history of the IS/SWP under the title, ‘The smallest mass party in the world’ - an oversimplification of what Birchall’s text said, and a radical misconception in itself; suggesting that the SWP could build itself by linear mass recruitment from then on.↩︎

  4. marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1891/erfurt-program.htm. The several drafts of the programme and Engels’ interventions are translated and collated in an appendix in Ben Lewis’s Karl Kautsky on democracy and republicanism (Brill 2019).↩︎

  5. marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/kautsky/1892/erfurter/index.htm; marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1892/erfurt.↩︎

  6. fifthinternational.org/content/crisis-capitalist-globalisation-and-socialist-solution. I have to admit that the CPGB’s own Draft programme is, in spite of serious efforts to shorten it in drafting, 14,000 words long.↩︎

  7. LT Lih Lenin rediscovered: ‘What is to be done?’ in context Brill 2006.↩︎

  8. A small plug here for my own review, ‘Origins of “Leninism”’ (Weekly Worker August 31 2006), which addresses specifically the similarity of the views of Lenin’s polemical targets in WITBD to those of the modern far left.↩︎

  9. Eg, JD White, ‘Lenin rediscovered and reloaded’ Europe-Asia Studies Vol 61, pp535-44 (2009); CSN Ingerflom ‘Lenin rediscovered, or Lenin redisguised?’ Kritika Vol 10, pp139-68 (2009). I do not mean to suggest that I agree with either of these critiques; the point is merely that comrade Faulkner could have offered a critique of Lih which would support the points he (Faulkner) wishes to make.↩︎

  10. “1899” is an error for 1900. It is clear from the proceedings of 1903 (B Pearce [ed] 1903: second ordinary congress of the RSDLP New Park 1978), and Lenin’s subsequent writings, that at most the main lines of an illegal German-style party were in his mind on his return from exile, not a “fully worked-out strategy”.↩︎

  11. VL Lidtke The outlaw party: social democracy in Germany 1878-1890, Princeton 1966, pp89-97.↩︎

  12. Parvus, ‘What was accomplished on the ninth of January’ and Trotsky, ‘Up to the ninth of January’ in RB Day and D Gaido (eds) Witnesses to permanent revolution Brill 2009, chapters 6 and 7.↩︎

  13. LT Lih op cit pp613-67.↩︎

  14. I Getzler Martov Cambridge 1967, chapter 4.↩︎

  15. B Pearce op cit p326.↩︎

  16. SF Jones, Socialism in Georgian colors Harvard 2005, pp143-44.↩︎

  17. B Pearce op cit ‘Kostrov’ at pp329, 333.↩︎

  18. LT Lih op cit; SF Jones op cit; also Martin Thomas at workersliberty.org/comment/34561#comment-34561, and references there to the Jena Parteitag and to Lenin’s comment on it (apparently unpublished at the time, according to the editors of Lenin CW).↩︎

  19. The narrative is already clear in I Getzler op cit; the arguments about the election of the EB and the ultimatum of the minority is in B Pearce (op cit), pp418-46; a clearer and more developed account - including as to why the Mensheviks embraced the tag, ‘minority’, in spite of actually seeking to reincorporate the Bund and other non-Iskra-ist tendencies to give themselves a majority - is in LT Lih op cit chapter 9.↩︎

  20. Zhordania’s contribution to the discussion of the agrarian programme illustrates the point - see B Pearce op cit ‘Kostrov’ at pp259-60 and 278.↩︎

  21. B Pearce op cit p478.↩︎

  22. Ibid p466-70.↩︎

  23. The resulting programme is 2,550 words long, and has the same general structure as the 1875 Gotha, 1880 Parti Ouvrier,1889 Hainfeld and 1891 Erfurt programmes (general introduction; constitutional demands; economic/ social demands), apart from (understandably) the Russian programme having a much more elaborate discussion of the agrarian question: marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/rsdlp/1903/program.htm.↩︎

  24. B Pearce op cit pp75-139, 372-79, 508-10.↩︎

  25. A Rabinowitch The Bolsheviks come to power London 2004, pp221-23.↩︎

  26. Resolution of the Paris meeting of various groups, February 28 1912, in RC Elwood (ed) Resolutions and decisions of the CPSU Toronto 1974, pp157-58; and the resolutions of the August (Vienna) conference, pp160-67 (whingeing in tone).↩︎

  27. LT Lih, ‘A faction is not a party’ Weekly Worker May 2 2012. Cf also, from a different (more 21st-century-application) angle, M Macnair, ‘Both Pham Binh and Paul Le Blanc are wrong’ (Weekly Worker April 5 2012).↩︎

  28. G Swain Russian Social democracy and the legal labour movement 1906-1914 Merlin 1983 - probably overstated due to anti-Leninist biases, but still indicative.↩︎

  29. ‘Democratic centralism: fortunes of a formula’ Weekly Worker April 11 2013; ‘Democratic centralism: further fortunes of a formula’ Weekly Worker July 25 2013. See also my own ‘Reclaiming democratic centralism’ Weekly Worker May 23 2019.↩︎

  30. I have documented the actual arguments in Revolutionary strategy November 2008, chapter 5.↩︎

  31. marxists.architexturez.net/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch02.htm#v1-p46.↩︎