What is a website like this to do? For regular readers that's obviously been an issue for me. My hope has been to create a discussion board for the broader communist trend in a time of tremendous political crisis. I don't think that "crisis" is mainly in socialism: but in the whole creaking, bloody edifice of capitalism itself, a crisis that has most certainly extended to those sections of the socialist movement that do not accept, or cannot honestly conceive, of a revolutionary break with the existing social relations.
Organized, self-described communist forces have tended to do one of two things. Either they pragmatically tailor their politics to what they take as their immediate needs, or they play the lonely beacon — shining the light into the conceptual darkness of the "masses." The pragmatists lose the forest for the trees, and more often than not themselves along the way. The vanguardists confuse the Forest for its dialectical ecology. And the system has stood through this, if not impervious to resistance – still standing, still dangerous, still wasting lives by the millions.
I've never believed that the conscious, active, vanguard element is fundamentally separate from the "masses." (Self-)Consciousness itself is not an alienation. I have to work. I've been a waiter and a glorified typesetter. Sometimes I've also led and participated in social movements; felt a glow from the people in struggle, like Etienne, the hero of Emile Zola's classic novel Germinal. My old friend Nilda, who introduced me to Wu Tang, also taught me a simple, important lesson: "you're in the mix, kid."
We are in the mix.
Why say all this? ...By way of introduction to Stan Goff's renunciation of Leninism as "doctrine." Goff has been one of the more interesting Marxist-identified writers in the US for a minute. A former Special Forces soldier, he served in Haiti, Somolia and Colombia, writing a chilling memoir of the former. Like a modern Smedley Butler, he went from being a "racketeer of capitalism" to a dedicated opponent not just "imperialism," but each of the systems of oppression that feed each other. In particular, he has dedicated substantial attention to questions of patriarchy. In one line he summed up the link between militarism and the domination of women in a way that helped me understand a lot: "Perfect masculinity is sociopathic." Indeed.
Renunciations are important — even when I disagree, strongly. It's necessary to reject "doctrine" if you want to think, let alone accomplish something. For those who view Marxism as a monolith, or conflate a scientific method with a search for purity, it is this same rejection of orthodoxy and dogmatism that has led me not to reject Marxism for the "sins of revisionism," as Lenin put it, but to engage what Avakian calls an "epistemological break."
There is no doubt the Soviet Union created a "doctrine" of Marxism-Leninism. They gave PhDs in it for crissakes. Sects have come and gone, it's true, be they Trots or Mao-Maos (or Hoxjaites or New Americans or anti-authoritarians). There is also no doubt that the Marxist-Leninist party is the single most important "movement technology" to ever be developed. Where there are revolutions, that seek socialism and not just a re-shuffling of the same deck, these are the organizations that do it.
The reason for this isn't magical, or related to any orthodoxy or doctrine. In this, Goff always failed to understand what Marxism is. [Hint: It's not a normative vocabulary binding disparate reform struggles.]
I've posted Goff's piece in full on the continuation of this post to see what other folks think about it, and to comment myself when I've thought on it a bit. I hope those who respond do so having read what he's written.