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November 30, 2006


Baby, I'm a (red) star

In a word: Pragmatism.

If you're looking for America's "organic" ideology, that's it.

What is the objective, the goal, of Goff's politic?

What is/are the social bases from which this "organic" politic springs?

I don't see it. I'm not familiar with his books, but I've read his blog from time to time. He has long held the ML left in disdain, equating literally any expression of socialist politics with "sectarianism." He seemed attached for a time loosely with Freedom Road's post-Leninist movement-oriented strategy. Considering the deeply pragmatic method they employ, it's not at all surprising he's come to the conclusions he has.

After all, if you just want to build social movements, and see the very attempt to build revolutionary organizations as self-defeating, why bother with all that "Marxist baggage." Sure won't win you any points.

He makes a dozen wrong statements, but I'm not going to nit-pick here.

Most importantly, I think, if you want to make revolution then people need organization and leadership. If you want to resist, form communes to "survive pending revolution" if even, then he is right for those aims.

Without revolution, the complete overturning of this state, this economic system and all the attendent social relations – intermediate movements of the kind he upholds here are a chimera. Step aside from them and they do not exist.

He's right in one thing:

"leftist organization in this disciplinary cadre model... stands as a real impediment to any refoundation process for a wide-scale politics of resistance."

Because... brother comrade... we are not just trying to resist, or define "resistance" down to the limitations the term sets for itself. If that's what you're about then no doubt a disciplined organiztion might just "force" you to keep your eyes on the prize and not wander down every alley of convenience for the MOMENT.



You are totally off the mark if you think that this step by Stan Goff unfortunate as it is, is the consequence of the effort to put the building of a revolutionary socialist party on the strong foundation of the realities of what the oppressed people in the U.S. face then you are mistaken. Left Refoundation is rooted in a Marxist and Leninist analysis of the way things are and not how we wish to see them. It is difficult to engage in struggle against straw people. Comrades you need to address the concrete work that addresses the crisis in socialism and attempts to address the way out of it. Freedom Road/EL Camino has never repudiated marxism-leninism but has attempted to truly use the methodology of marxism to forge a way out of the quagmire that the Left in this country has found itself in. Does it represent the last word on the subject. I hope not.


i cant find a sentence in that last post that i can agree with. Several sentences I disagree with in more than one way.

I have zero surprise over what Goff did... it follows the logic of the logic.

In particular there is a theory here (which I will call "the theory of mulitple addresses") that says this:

"you need to address the concrete work that addresses the crisis in socialism and attempts to address the way out of it."

Does "concrete work" mean theory to you? Or does it mean the narrow and stultifying attention to movement details that characterize the trade union secretary and activist-as-lifestyle?

(The very word "concrete" is always a give-away, spoken as a nervous tick, and oozing in permanent if-unspoken distain for its opposite -- the "abstract" -- as if the real and tangible is always inherently higher than the theoretical synthesis. Welcome to a perfect marriage of traditional "economist" narrowness and all-American "can do" spirit!)

If you want to address the work (not concret but abstract work!) that actually addresses the crisis of socialism and the way out of it.... and does so deeply, from many sides, in close connect to a living analysis of the present and future.... well, you know whose new synthesis is there for the taking and for the wrangling, right?

unfortunate to see this...

I think burningman correctly points to the link between the overall Left Refoundationist framework and the conclusions that Goff arrives at in this document. I think those links are the most clear on the question of rejecting Leninist organization. On the level of theory, I think the roots of this rejection of Marxism theoretically lie in the idea of the long-term Crisis of Socialism as formulated by the Left Refoundationist FRSO. The crisis of socialism as defined by the Left Refoundationists appears to have no solution within the Marxist framework - the only 'solution' is to break in some fundamental way with Marxism. Goff's article should make it clearer why there was a split in Freedom Road in 1999, and why the grouping within FRSO that upheld Marxism-Leninism was correct to see the Left Refoundationist trajectory as a road with a very serious danger of liquidation of Marxism, both organizationally and theoretically. Here it is.

That said, while I disagree with it overall, Goff's document is a serious document which raises many important issues that deserve more careful consideration and discussion. He's certainly not the only person on the left to hold such views about Marxism and about Marxist-Leninist organization. While I think Goff's decision to leave behind M-L organization and politics is an unfortunate thing, hopefully a frank discussion of this could be turned into a good thing. I'm interested to see how the discussion unfolds here.

the burningman

Stan has written some interesting things in the exchange on his website where this was originally posted:

First off, I'm going to engage in exactly the vice I warned of to start this off by responding first to some of the above comments, with some notes on FRSO/either/or.

"Goff's article should make it clearer why there was a split in Freedom Road in 1999, and why the grouping within FRSO that upheld Marxism-Leninism was correct to see the Left Refoundationist trajectory as a road with a very serious danger of liquidation of Marxism, both organizationally and theoretically. Here it is."

Well, to be fair...

The flipside of this is the Fight Back grouping new found respect for Divine Monarchies, Baath Socialism and Breznev.

The fight between the dueling Pragmatic errors of dogmatism (who cares what's true?) and opportunism (truth is whatever the five people in the room agree to this week) is the same false choice that is in many ways responsible for the sorry state of the post/anti-Maoist wings of the communist movement.

Hell, it's hard to even call it the same movement, all vocabularies aside.

Left Refoundation is currently featuring an article that I almost re-posted a few weeks ago when the blog was still on hold.

It's by Jamala Rogers, current head of the Black Radical Congress. She was a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist-Jesse-Jackson-Thought) and was among those (left after Jesse juiced their lemon) who merged into FRSO.

Check it out:,en/

Now, the only difference I can see between what she is saying (via Bill Fletcher) and what Stan is running – is that Stan doesn't see the need for a national organization and they do.

The underlying abdication of anything REMOTELY communist (let along revolutionary, let alone seeking to enact actual reforms...) is that Goff follows the "logic of the logic."

I would be curious to see if Left Refoundation produces any formal response to this piece. My hunch is they can't; as any fundamental defense of Marxism would involve a degree of ideological unity that Left Refoundation *as a method* does not allow for. That is to say, a "defense" of Marxism would involve its application.

If your political line (which Stan has whether he gets the meaning of the word or not) is determined not by an assessment of what is correct, but rather through the negotiation of different activist networks to a mutually "beneficial" accomodation – how could you respond to this?

So far, the two FRSOs' responses are: "what connection?" and "told you so, you Refoundation suckers. Now let us praise Kim Jong Il who descended from heaven (okay well, he didn't, but let's just pretend)."

choice quotes

From Stan's additional commentaries on Feral Scholar:

"All people are already organized. We just have to find out where, and show up."

"Two reasons, imho, that the organizational forms fail are (1) the actual system is still stable enough to survive, and (2) we cling to the illusion that we can “take it on” head-to-head as it were."

" my simple suggestion for what to do, aside from what we are already doing — which is plenty — is start small and work on things like food independence, or establishing local independent media, or community gardens, or building community around women’s shelters, etc etc etc."

"My issue with Marxism (the doctrine, the organizational model, etc) is not that Marxism (the interpetive method) doesn’t explain a lot of stuff. It damn well does; and that’s why the ruling class still hates it. The problem is, it doesn’t explain everything, including a lot of stuff that has a real influence on the political work we do."


God damn it! Marxism doesn't explain my love of fried food and degenerate French poets? Fuck it.

Who needs an organizational model?

(Uh, the government? Its army? The universities? The agricultural system? – Heaven forbid, I mean really, that we actually challenge THOSE things...)

Christopher Day

I have to say that I have found Stan's piece to be considerably more thoughtful than any of the critical responses to it so far. This is not to say that I agree with Stan's conclusion or disagree with all of the criticisms. But it is noticeable that the criticisms are directed more at naming the box that Stan should now be placed in than at engaging the substantive content of what he has just said.

I agree with Burningman that the Leninist party was an incredibly effective "movement technology" in the 20th century. In some places more than others. And in fewer and fewer places as the century waned. There's the rub. The Leninist party as an organizational form proved invaluable in the periphery and (to a lesser extent) the semi-periphery over a number of decades in propelling revolutionaries into power and facilitating often extensive social transformations short of the complete uprooting of capitalist social relations. These are important accomplishments that must be taken into account in developing organizational forms appropriate to radically different conditions.

In the highly industrialized countries of the imperialist metropolis (where we live), however, the Leninist party has not proven to be such a great success. Indeed it has suffered from most of the deficiencies identified here by Goff.

I disagree with Goff's fixation here with the supposed incompatability of the Leninist party with "American culture" and I agree with Burningman that this view leads right into the gaping maw of American pragmatism. But Goff is right that there is an incompatibility. I would argue rather that it is an incompatibility with the conditions of advanced industrialized countries with their comparatively dense communications networks and less rigid forms of political organization.

So whats the alternative? I wish I fucking knew. I don't share Goff's exclusive (semi-anarchist) enthusiasm for small, localized resistance projects. Been there, done that. I think he is right that they are an important part of any strategy of resistance, but I also think there really is a need for an organizational form that can accomplish in this sort of society some of the functions fulfilled by Leninist parties elsewhere in the world, not least of which is the leadership functions that can move from resistance to revolution.

My enthusiasm for the Zapatistas derives less from any conviction that they have found the answers to these questions and more from the fact that, like Stan, they seem serious about engaging them in ways that groups that identify as Leninist have not been able to do as of yet.

I'd like to continue writing, but the pizza delivery guy just arrived!

Modern Pitung

To give my humble opinion, as someone identified with the Road/El Camino (however pseudonymously) -- my advice is not to act like a fool that rushes in where angels fear tread.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to *read the document* in question (i.e., Stan's statement).

Stan states clearly in the first few paragraphs that he has had a change of opinion that is in contradiction with his organization's opinion and course of direction.

In other words, he changed his mind.

My own verdict: Fine. Changing one's own mind is a sign that one has a mind of one's own. Stan isn't setting himself up as the anti-Road, or anti-Marxist. Nor is he setting himself up as a Bizarro Road or ortho-Marxist. Nor has he taken on the capitalist road. In no way has Stan made this an antagonistic contradiction.

As for the Road, we have worked too hard to build ourselves as an organization, as well as a new vision of the Left, to get involved in some petty internet flamewar over such a non-antagonistic contradiction. It was never demanded of any Road member to have either a personality cult or "culture of appreciation" to Stan, as there is with Ludo or Bob (who, as I understand it, I am insulting by using their non-Divinely Given first name).

In the end, the Road/El Camino loses a member, valued as all members are, to his own personal disagreement. Those who are waiting around for gossip to have schadenfreude to will be disappointed. Strange how not setting people up as idols to begin with means not having to smash them as false.

Modern Pitung

In a brief a riposte to b-man's response to the FB!: the following

"I would be curious to see if Left Refoundation produces any formal response to this piece. My hunch is they can't; as any fundamental defense of Marxism would involve a degree of ideological unity that Left Refoundation *as a method* does not allow for."

. . . is laced with all sorts of wrongheaded assumptions, and needs clarification.

First, let me say that the idea that a group needs to defend itself (with crushing blows, blah blah blah) against someone who leaves having no intention on working against either his former group or Marxism (in general) hints at exactly how big a leap the CPN(M) took in vanquishing that idea from their party.

Second, on what we truly need -- which is not some vague "defense" of Marxism-Leninism but a real means to push it forward and through the barriers put upon it -- this is work FRSO/OSCL is undertaking presently, which will be made public soon.

Third, as with all things Road, we do not take this up for reasons of personal spite -- these were tasks set out well before this posting from Stan. We do it because we still believe that the working class has a world to win.


Right on Modern. As someone raised in the necters of Maoism even though after these many years I forget that I have to explain to people the relationship between theory and practice. I won't take the time to do that now. FRSO/OSCL certainly does not have to defend it's theoretical work becaus certainly no one has come at the work directly. When I say "concrete" I speak of the need to deal with the world as it is not in a philosophicaly idealist fashion which approaches the world as we imagine it to be. FRSO/OSCL upholds the need for a revolutionary socialist party that can and will contend for power in the US. That party does not exsist yet. The Left in any and all of its fragments is sorefully impotent and can not put forward a coherent vision that speaks to the oppressed people in this country. It is tragic that even good people get side tracked and slide to the "left" and to the right. Even more so in the belly of the beast were the ideological tentacles of the monster is so strong. La Lucha Sigue!

Chuck Morse

I am an anarchist not a marxist, so perhaps my comments will be unwelcome on this site, but I want to point out that this piece by Goff is largely a rehash of criticisms that have been leveled against the Marxist-Leninist left for decades. I suppose it is newsworthy to you all that this guy—an old MLer—suddenly switched teams, but he’s not saying anything new. In fact, this piece reminds me very much of Murray Bookchin’s Listen, Marxist!, which was published nearly forty years ago.

But I am disappointed that so many of this guy’s critics on this site defend Leninism in such pragmatic terms (we need a Leninist party because we need disciple, to crush the opposing class, yada yada yada). That is a very superficial defense of Leninism, one that has much more to do with Blanqui than Lenin.

Leninism is only meaningful as Marxist-Leninism which is only meaningful to the extent that Marxism can provide a meaningful account of our historical experience. If it can’t, then Marxism and Leninism are nothing more than relics. I am pretty sure that most of the world has decided where it stands on this issue, but don't get mad at us if it takes you forty years to figure it out.

Ken Larson

You make many good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armements”

The Pentagon is a giant,incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be - Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.


I think Goff is recognizing some very important realities with regards to the communist movement in the U.S.

I think he's right to recognize that sectarianism has given us this self reproducing stalemate/paralysis in the communist movement.

I think he's correct to discuss the necessity of looking at other ideas, and not through the lense of our own dogmas.

Where I think he is wrong is where he seems to suggest that "thinking big" is a problem. I think he is wrong to suggest a move to the local, and to "resistance". I say this even as I know he's correct in recognizing groupings based on this practical model have many things to teach us.

To the extent that these experiments and resistances have something to teach us, these lessons need to be synthesized and presented in the realm of ideology. Resistance is decidedly not good enough, the world needs revolution. I think there is something of a contradiction between this narrow emphasis on Goff's part, and then his apparent interest in the creation of a revolutionary movement.

I think he's wrong to abandon leadership, especially if this is based on a criticism of leadership as in and of itself patriarchal. I'm not sure if that's what he's saying, but it seems so.

I also don't believe that the vanguard, or Party structure are by definition innappropriate to our situation. I think the issue is that the currently existing parties are backward with regards to any kind of movement or social phenomena that would justify their existance. That is, a revolutionary movement gives birth to its own organizations organically. We now have many organizations that are the leftovers of previous upsurges, which exist in the absence of any revolutionary movement. To put it another way, what is the point of revolutionary leadership when there is no revolutionary movement to lead. And in terms of their histories their present ideologies and doctrines are not "culturally alien", but historically alien or anachronistic.

I must strongly disagree with Goff's assertion of cultural causes for these problems.

I also think he has been unfortunately selective in his lack of engagement with those who are trying to deal with these issues. A brief list of such organizations and people would include, I think, Avakian, Prachanda and Bhattarai, EZLN, Hardt and Negri, Badiou, and the organization which Goff was involved in. All these groups and thinkers (and many more) share the problematic of "The New Synthesis". And that is what is at issue.

We need something new which allows us to accomplish the very old task of human liberation. I personally don't see this as being in opposition to marxism, but an extension of it to the point of rupture and the foundation of a new stage of revolutionary struggle. I think we're looking at a situation which cries out for something radically new at the service of a very old struggle. Something new that, while it has grown out of the ruptures that Marx brought forward, finds itself in a recognizably different disposition.

And I think once this Synthesis is brought forward, from within a movement, in its disparate and isolated pieces, it must be brought to a point of clarity in the concentrated form of theory, and then in the concentrated form of organization, such as a party. That is, the basis for both the organization of a movement and the basis for giving such a movement ideological coherence arises from within the movement itself and the illusion of these being imparted to the movement from outside is actually an affect of the necessity for these to be concentrated and given back to the movement which created them in the first place.

or something...

To Chris:

I think it is important to recognize that there are marxist-leninists that are engaging the same questions as Stan and the Zapatistas. That they're not doing it in the same way is obvious, but your lack of recognition of this shared problematic does betray some partisanship for Stan Goff and the Zapatista's "answers".


Christopher Day says, "I have to say that I have found Stan's piece to be considerably more thoughtful than any of the critical responses to it so far."

Clearly this is true, but I think it's a bit unfair. I'd guess that Goff spent weeks if not months formulating and writing his document (and years struggling to arrive at the conclusions he has now come to). The responses so far are written within 24 hours of first reading his document.

Many people are giving their first take, which of course will tend toward people's predisposed answers to what appear to be, as Chuck Morse said, very similar critiques to those that have been made against Marxism-Leninism for decades. I think it's fine for people to give their stock response; it helps lay out who is coming from where. But I share Chris's (and burningman's) desire for people to read Goff's document carefully and respond more fully to the specifics he brings up, rather than just giving the stock response. I'm going to try if/when I get some more real time. Let the discussion flow...


Can't put up a more substantial critique but I found Goff's approach quite irritating. the first poster said it: pragmatism.

It seems to be a tendency among the left here to develop our own internal "5-year plans". If the revolution has not happened by this time, then something is inherently wrong with Marxism. It is at this point that people like Goff take on their "voice in the wilderness" persona.

The questions he poses are important ones but he acts as if they had not been constantly debated for decades. To here him tell it, you would think that no one from Marx up 'til now has attempted to critically examine the primacy of the proletariat in socialist revolution. For him, it's just a dogmatic position without justification. Without Goff, who would think to question democratic centralism?

Not only are the questions he raises continually being debated, but the answers he provides have been continually repeated too. He seems too well read to be this ignorant, so his positions seem to be more than a little disingenuous.

the burningman

Chuck, your comments are more than welcome. If you're curious about site moderation and so on, check here:

Which is a neat way of starting a different track on the discussion.


I don't see different left-wing or anti-capitalist groups in "competition" with each other. That is, as Stan diagnoses, a sectarian habit. I wouldn't see this mistake as somehow unique to ML(M) politics, and is as Chuck so neatly noted, of a lineage (politically) going back to Blanqui. For those not familiar with the fellow, I'm sure Wikipedia has something semi-reliable.

Any human collectivity/organization formed around the adherence of an idea, method, intention – which is expressive, requiring application broadly – will develop a set of vices connected to their method.

But the question of "sectarianism" is a funny one. Essentially the argument is that any *political* answer to social *questions* is itself a diversion, doomed to failure – "alien."

To be, in this sense, *organic* we must limit ourselves (as the conscious element/vanguard/activist) to meeting needs and facilitating (at most) the range of the *already real* – or as Stan puts it, the "concrete."

It was this practice, that was the literal antecedent of Marxism-Leninism, that repeatedly broke its wave against the power of the modern state, its ideological apparatuses and the innumerable means the system by its own *natural* functioning recouped.

Put another way, it was no accident the non-Leninist socialists of Europe saw in expanded imperialism the possibility of a "new contract" with capital. In this they were not incorrect. Material needs to education, health, food were MET by imperialism in Europe – but at what expense? And did this reality not require a *conscious, scientific* intervention to *re-direct* the spontaneous, felt needs and demands of the European workers movement?

Marxism, then Leninism, developed not out of a single, "one true" path that patiently gathered adherents. Quite the opposite.

Mass revolutionary movements, inchoate, reactive, scattered, developed among the working classes simultaneously with various "revolutions" in philosophy, particularly dialectics and materialism (before Marx's "new synthesis").

This was true in Cental Europe of the 19th Century as well as in Russia. It was decades in the making, and was anything but a "straight line."

These movements were filled with different, often contradictory ideas. Utopianism, anarchism, "back to the land" style Narodniks, conspirators, styles of imperial socialism, terrorists.

Marxism-Leninism does have an ideological geneology in the Soviet Union and Comintern, and various imperatives of that state – but the rich variety of practice following its adoption internationally via the Comintern is slept on to our peril.

The Young Lords are one example from my own city that springs immediately to mind. The Chinese revolution, and continuing fight thereafter, is another.

In these two examples, one in power (off and on), the other an insurgent group the never approached power – we can see the outlines of what makes a revolutionary party not just relevent, but successful.

If the broad social movements that resist the outrages of capital, white supremacy, the subordination of women and destruction of the world's ecology ATTEMPT to separate themselves from 1) class consciousness, which is not "natural," and, 2) efforts to DIRECTLY challenge and OVERCOME the capitlist state – these movements will not be able to succeed even on the profoundly moderated terms they set themselves.

It is not the "fault" of ANY ideology that we in the United States have not developed a successful revolutionary movement. That is putting the cart before the horse – and if we make THAT mistake, we will cripple ourselves from the very ideas and methods that will ALLOW us to seize those opportunities as they arise.

(at work, more later)

Christopher Day

LS is correct about the value of people's "first takes" in launching a discussion. I just hope that we don't let them ossify into positions we feel obligated to defend to the last comma, as too often happens.

While regretably resorting to some boiler-plate anti-Leninism at the end of his comment, I think Chuck Morse makes a very astute point about the essentially pragmatic nature of the defense of Leninism advanced here by Burningman (and echoed by myself). Pragmatism is a powerful intellectual force in our culture and nobody should imagine that just by saying they oppose it that they have actually broken with it.

As an aside, it should be said that if Marxism and Leninism were the relics Chuck claims, he wouldn't be drawn to this discussion. While identifying himself unambiguously with anarchism I have always known Chuck to be serious about facing the problematic that Repeater describes, which I suspect is why he thinks it important to weigh in here (where I certainly hope he is considered welcome).

I would like to unite with Repeater's post which makes several excellent points. For the record I do recognize that there are Leninists engaged with the problematic repeater describes. I am particularly excited by the CPN(M). Repeater is mistaken, however, in taking my failure to mention them in my (pizza interupted) comment, as evidence of a "tilt" towards Goff's or the EZLN's position (though I would be very interested in Goff's current thinking on the Zap's in light of his previously stated criticisms). To the degree that I have a tilt it is in fact more in the direction of the Left Refoundation project of building a revolutionary socialist party. If this is not always clear from my thinking aloud in comments here it is because I find the problems facing it damnably difficult and am hungry to discuss them.

Finally, I think its important to say that the Leninist party form is not some sort of unchanging transhistorical category. This means a couple things. The first is that its important to take seriously its evolution over time in response to changing conditions. If the idea of a science of revolution is to be anything more than vulgar scientism this must be our view. The second is that at a certain point the accumulation of anomalies requires a paradigmatic leap. I believe we have come to that point. Indeed I think we've been there for a while, but the pardigmatic leap has so far not been forthcoming. Murray Bookchin certainly didn't make it. Neither have the Zapatistas yet. As events are unfolding in Mexico, the Zapatistas may be about to face the test of fire. My guess is that either they will be crushed or what will emerge will look importantly different from what we have seen over the past twelve years. What gives me hope is my knowledge of their enormous capacity for flexibility and reimagining their project in its various phases going back well before the 1994 uprising. Whatever the outcome, the urgency of developing an organizational form appropriate to needs of the revolutionary movement in the 21st century is profound. While I am skeptical that the result will explicitly identify itself as Leninist, I also don't think it can afford to deny, as the anarchists do, the enormous advances made by Leninism in the 20th century.

the burningman

Chris Day writes:

"Pragmatism is a powerful intellectual force in our culture and nobody should imagine that just by saying they oppose it that they have actually broken with it."


"I think its important to say that the Leninist party form is not some sort of unchanging transhistorical category. This means a couple things. The first is that its important to take seriously its evolution over time in response to changing conditions. If the idea of a science of revolution is to be anything more than vulgar scientism this must be our view."

No doubt – but the funny thing is, when Marxist-Leninists are literally working to deal with this, as is very much happening RIGHT NOW, it is not just denied (by those who reject revolutionary communism as such, regardless of sectarian coloration) – but efforts are redoubled to isolate, distance and distort these forces to reduce them to the very strawman its claimed they intrinsically are.

Without getting into too many details, I'll ask this:

What political trends in the US right now are working to galvanize broad, non-sectarian resistance to the entire Bush program WITHOUT subordinating popular movements to an appendage (admittedly or not) to the Democratic Party?

Right now... who?

And what political trends in the US, right now, have REJECTED that fight... either to "localize" their work around "felt needs" OR as part of ensuring a totally counter-productive subordination to the Democrats?

Real question.

I do not see MLM forces as "paralyzed." Quite the opposite. They are weak, especially when viewed not in "competition" to the activist left in total – but to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie that they seek to overthrow.

So, while the easy to conjure the strawman of the commie lunatic, holed up with a yellow sharpie underlying choice passages of What Is To Be Done?, what I actually SEE is the EXACT opposite of this.

I see those non/anti-political movements as "paralyzed" in all the crucial aspects of struggle. This is true whether they call themselves "anti-authoritarian," or the myriad post-Leninists such as FRSO, the CP and assorted groups swimming in the alphabet soup that still takes its cues from the Stalin/Trotsky era of Popular Frontism.

A large number of organizations who have more-or-less rejected Leninism use this very well developed "sectarian" strawman to ALSO cast aside "another world is possible" as anything but an infinitely receeding horizon.

That doesn't mean, for a minute, that "Leninism" or MLM is the ONLY answer to these questions. I don't think that's what a dialectical materialist method "demands" or CLAIMS. At least not among the political forces I see representing it.

There's an old polemic from the New Communist Movement that disparages the "Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type." Well, what wrong with two, three, many parties of a new type?

Who said this was a zero-sum game? (Well, I know... I know...)

The difference here is that MLM does not see intermediate forms of resistance and "survival" as in antagonistic contradiction to the necesseties of revolutionary political leadership.

That is the contribution (in "left" form) of anarchism, and in the US of all the various streams of radical/participatory democracy.

This "analysis" is supported from the real material base of decidedly authoritarian institutions that are themselves subordinate to the Democratic Party. This includes the NGO world and labor unions most specifically.

These groupings, from "labor" to CP-allied cadre in various anti-war and labor institutions, are game to reject "Leninism" because to do so is much easier than to justify they own (profoundly dogmatic) methods and aims of... subordinating the movements of resistance, ultimately, to the tyranny of the real... the "concrete."

We would always be confined to what is, because any claim towards a becoming is nothing but a "sectarian" chimera attempting to graft "ideology" onto the real.

For example, when the CP put out their position on Marxists for Kerry, let's just say that rap didn't catch fire on its own terms. After all, why be a Marxist if you're really for Kerry?

Which brings us back to the discussion.

Without a proletarian political pole, we will fall back in line behind the Democrats whether that's what we *subjectively* intend to do or not. NOT because of ideology, but becuase that is the mechanism for disputation within the existing system.

So the rejection of "sectarianism" is here, truly, the rejection of any world BEYOND this one.

That's my humble opinion, which is neither just opinion or honestly all that humble. It is the accumulated failure not of "Marxism-Leninism," but of that section of the ML movement which has not incorporated any fundamental critique of Popular Frontism and instrumentalism of ideas and political forms.

In other words, anybody can call themselves whatever they want. The issue is... (cough) line.

The Marxist-Leninist party is not simply a form, to be pragmaticaly adopted and "used." It is the content that gives it life... or not.

Stan's got a line as much as Chris, as much as me, as much as anyone who chooses to act in a conscious way in politics and our broader social life.

The underpinning of Stan's line, as well as forces like the EZ – is that we cannot, in any fundamental, revolutionary sense, win.


Chuck is right that my initial take had elements of Pragmatism (in the philosophical sense, not related to "practicality"). It's exactly that razor-sharp eye that makes me sad he's not still publishing a magazine regularly...


Chris: "My enthusiasm for the Zapatistas derives less from any conviction that they have found the answers to these questions and more from the fact that, like Stan, they seem serious about engaging them in ways that groups that identify as Leninist have not been able to do as of yet."

You don't think that MLM, saying here Avakian and the CPN-M, are engaging exactly these questions as part and parcel of building resistance movements in the USA and a revolutionary movement in South Asia?

I have to disagree with you. I think it is the forces split between what's being called Ortho-Revisionism (Fight Back) and a particular conception of "refoundation" that aren't engaging them.

That's the power of distancing. Put it off your table and then pretend it isn't there.

Chuck Morse

Well, my anarchist self feels duly welcomed into the commie dungeon! Please don’t hurt me ... I am being playful... thanks for the encouragement to participate. I do think these discussions are important and glad that this blog sponsors them.

Burningman, I think you make a good point when you say that charges of “sectarianism” and “abstractness” are often little more than concealed attempts to lock us into the present. I don’t think your point is a defense of ML per se, but I agree with your comment. There are certain methodological premises that always chain us to the status quo, even if we declare ourselves against it.

As I see it, Goff’s article needs to be placed in the context of the very long history of critiques of Marxism and Marxist-Leninism. This criticism has never been a serious part of the political culture among ML groups, which is why Goff thinks that he has discovered something new. Of course he hasn’t: there is a very rich critical literature that he (and we) should read.

One of the problems with the pragmatic defense of Leninism is that it confuses terms by turning Leninism into a form of Blanqui style volunteerism. I see Leninism as much more ambitious--and thus potentially much more flawed--doctrine than Blanquism. Specifically, Leninists presuppose that they have privileged access to historical truth—that they grasp the real dialectic of history—and thus have the right and obligation to impose themselves on the world. I think that would be a good position if Marxism did provide a coherent account of our historical experience, although I do not believe that it does (that’s another discussion, I know).

Ultimately, I think we need to rethink not only what organizational forms are adequate to today’s needs, but also the whole revolutionary project (Marxist, anarchist, and otherwise). Of course this is a daunting project, but I think it can be done. In fact, it is precisely in this context that I take heart from great revolutionaries like Lenin and others, who smashed their predecessors in order to move on. I think we’ll have to do the same.

the burningman

Well, I never was a good Dungeonmaster... but we'll let that pass while I put on my Ring of Honest Interrogation. LOL.

Chuck writes: "One of the problems with the pragmatic defense of Leninism is that it confuses terms by turning Leninism into a form of Blanqui style volunteerism."

Of this there is no doubt. None. This is stone-cold fact, and the evidence is all around us – in our personal and political histories. And, as Chuck also notes, is hardly specific to Leninism itself.

We are not all agreed, among those who've commented above, on the need for such fundamental "re-thinking."


I would phrase it differently, as Modern Pitung did, as simply "thinking."

In this sense, I disagree with the way Stalin put it, that there are "Foundations of Leninism." There is a coherent theory, or more accurately a numuber of profoundly dissimilar theories. MLM is not Juche is not The Invinciple Wisdom of Huey P. Newton is not Sam Marcy.

Chuck writes: "Leninists presuppose that they have privileged access to historical truth—that they grasp the real dialectic of history—and thus have the right and obligation to impose themselves on the world."

Well, that's what anarchists keep TELLING us we think, but that is neither my experience nor, I would argue, an accurate read on the role vanguard parties have played IN or OUT of power.

But that is not a different discussion so much as your more general critique of historical materialism.

Science is not merely a narrative, as argued by such Deacons of Pragmatism as Richard Rorty.

Your use of the word "privilege" is very interesting to me, and I think it very much (from this cursory commentary) part and parcel of the decades-old march of post-modern, post-structuralist and/or Foucauldian "discursive" problematization of any "universal", "objective", "normative" idea.

It refuses the distinction between "notion" and "Idea" in the Hegelian sense – and reduces all theory to opinion.

In the natural sciences we see the (ultimately reactionary) nature of these claims in the project of "including" Intelligent Design in local school curiculums because "that's what the local people want."

How's that for an "anti-authoritarian" backdoor for quite genuine authoritarians?

So, in a sense, I'll agree with your claim. I "privilege" that which can be demonstrated to be true – very much. But I balk at the claim of "imposition" as if knowlege itself is a tyranny, and as if the class struggle is merely a dispute between narratives.

I don't know how far you personally go with that logic, but it (honestly) seems very much the kind of presupposition that is built into identifying "power-over" as the problem itself... and not the matrix of social relations that themselves reporduce the relations of oppression and alienation we all ostensibly seek to supplant.

Chuck Morse

Hi Burningman,

I see your point and I think we probably have many of the same objections to post-modernism (and other forms of relativism). For my sake, I don’t object to universals or the idea of truth, just to Marxist formulations of them.

Modern Pitung

This comment thread has gone far beyond the ostensible topic. That's not necessarily a bad thing that it does so, but the drift is notable in such passages from b-man:

>>I see those non/anti-political movements as "paralyzed" in all the crucial aspects of struggle. This is true whether they call themselves "anti-authoritarian," or the myriad post-Leninists such as FRSO<<

Hint: if you bothered to refer back to the article in question, Stan explicitly states that he is no longer a Leninist, and implicitly that he has left FRSO because of that.

To go further: FRSO/OSCL has never identified itself or its politics as "post-Leninist" or as no longer Marxist-Leninist -- these are solely the distortions of the FB! group.

What we *are* "post" (as in, done with) is false Leninism: the whole business of

a) trying to bring about revolution with "Bolshevism in the miniature" in which the knives are made so sharp because the stakes are so low.

b) the idea that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is synonymous with some state bureaucracy above the people.

So to modify your mistaken impression of FRSO/OSCL's politics: the problem we have with this false Lenin is not that the kids these days are reading What Is to Be Done -- it is that not enough people read enough Lenin.

R to the C to the motherfuckin' P

I don't want to debate the relative merits of Freedom Road. Is that the point of this thread? Maybe so.

Since organizational questions are in the mix, I am speaking here as an individual and anonymously. Not representing anybody even if my sympathies and allegience will be plain.

I read the piece by Rogers that b-man linked to. Whatever that is, it is not Leninism. It is exactly the politics that Lenin was a lifelong opponent of on the left.

In Russia it was called Menshevism. We're talking textbook here. That doesn't mean its wrong by definition. Maybe the Mensheviks were right. Some people think so. Apparently.

I think Menshevism, and all philosophies of leading from the middle/tailing the mass movements are a dead end. They are the methods inside our movements that define and enforce that dead end. On this I doubt Freedom Road is the worst. I learned to hate it in the CPUSA, with all their hatred of rebellion and slavish devotion to capturing bureaucratic positions as managers of the working class ideologically.

I am with those who apply MLM as a method of struggle, an epistemology and the nucleus of the very new communist movement we see developing today.

Refoundation is specifically an argument against forming a revolutionary communist party. Not speaking here of "THE" Revolutionary Communist Party, but ANY revolutionary communist party.

That's why they sought alliance with groups ranging from the CP to Solidarity, and the "reformation" of an activist network that consensually agreed to use what's been called here a "normative vocabulary" that happens to be Marxist.

They could not do so because various sectoral groups weren't willing to give up on their defining issues, and the whole thing not only threatened to fly apart, it did. Examples being specifically the Black Nation thesis that FRSO has as one of its few basis of unity and the resulting split with the Midwestern branches that adopted Workers World politics, with all that is genuinely sick about them.

Is there an analysis of these meetings posted somewhere? I mean the specific national meetings on Refoundation? I would be very interested to read them. It would add a lot to this discussion as it is shaping up.

Modern Pitung may think the stakes are low, but that's what we used to call a "confession without torture." I get the point he's trying to make. I read Elbaum's book. I get the points implicit in it. I get that what he's saying also in no way matches what I see FRSO post about these matters.

Can you please post a link to where Freedom Road discusses the "revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat" in ANY form without scare quotes? I am curious what they see it as. Is that an objective of your organization?

From the constituent groups who formed it, including the LRS and RWH, they both specifically denounced what is now called Maoism or MLM (aka the "Gang of Five"). They supported the very capitalist roaders who turned China into the horrorshow it is today. As they have never, and I mean never, written a re-assessment of these issues – I can only assume they still support that "state bureaucracy above the people," while equating revolutionary, anti-Revisionist politics with the very line they themselves developed.

It was Avakian (!) who did not, which is why we do have an RCP and a revolutionary communist trend internationally. It was Mao who did not, and pioneered the deployment of a vanguard fight towards the communist road through the class struggles that we collectively call socialism.

Today even those Maoist parties that are critical of Avakian, particularly the Communist Party of India (Maoist) uphold this defining aspect of his contributions.

Freedom Road (either/or/laughing out loud) does not, even in part.

Ironically, especially today, its exactly the opposite of who you would expect.

A further irony, I have to add, is that for all the claims that Leninism is static or "classic", if this thread demonstrates anything...

the meat

Stan (remember him?) writes:

"it occurred to me that the notion of unity at the core of Leninist organizing philosophy is one that is a centralized and imposed unity, and an imposed ideological and practical unity which reaches for a scale that cannot keep pace with social development. It is, then, constantly mismatched with the social reality of the masses these ideational vanguards wish to lead."

Aside from general sentiments, any thoughts on this one?

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