Rules of the road


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November 30, 2006



Leftclick said:

"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."

I don't think it's so superficial as that. As Chuck has noted, many of the critiques that Goff is making are decades old critiques. Furthermore marxism-leninism, of one stripe or another, has been around for nearly a century. I think you distort the issue when you present it as a subjective failing in order to reject these criticisms. Pragmatism in relation to five years perhaps, but in relation to a century it begins to look inflexible, if we don't evaluate our failures (I'm speaking narrowly about the United States).

Moreover, I think Goff's pragmatism is much more banal in its roots. I would suggest that as much as his military experience radicalized him, it also formed a spontaneously pragmatic ideology. Having read "Hideous Dream", it strikes me that many of the criticisms he makes of marxist-leninists are the exact same criticisms he made of the military bureaucracy. In both cases he argued that if things could just be dealt with in their immediate sense they would have come to a better resolution. It doesn't seem that he had a problem with the Haitian invasion until the bureaucracy got in the way of his doing exactly this.

Burningman writes:

"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.'"

I think the problem is that many people do see this as a competition. Witness the necessity to go back into defensive, or offensive posture, over the differences of the various organizations. It's in this very thread from "Modern Pitung" to "R to the C to the motherfuckin P".

The argument you allude to is one of the many arguments that can be derived from a critique of sectarianism, but it is not the only one. I really do believe that sectarianism is a problem, but it's not because sectarians believe strongly and act to create social change, rather it is the extent to which their ideologies preclude any social change because their ideologies are intentionally isolated and self referential.

I think Goff makes an important point when he argues that there is a sectarian competition in the left which keeps us so concentrated on our differences that we can't see where we're united. What I tried to do in my previous point was to show where it is that many of us are united, from the Zapatistas, to the RCP. That is on a commitment to revolutionary change, and a shared problematic of how to bring that about given our history.

The question concretely boils down to whether we will have a revolutionary movement at all, as a true revolutionary movement will have to be formed of such divergent forces and ideologies, and we need something that encompasses that unity, i.e. a New Synthesis.

And I think that this has to be answered before the question of a vanguard, or no, is even relevant (My temporal arrangement of stages presumes something of a dialectic).

As you said, "These movements were filled with different, often contradictory ideas. Utopianism, anarchism, "back to the land" style Narodniks, conspirators, styles of imperial socialism, terrorists." And it is my understanding that the Bolsheviks were not outside of or above this, but deeply formed by all of it. We need whatever it was that bound these types of contradictions together.



To be formulaic about it, I see it as very similar to the "cone of diversity" comments made by Steven Jay Gould, that is, diversity doesn't arise out of the one, but rather that the one arises out of diversity. Though I think we need to abandon "the one" as a referent, I'm just suggesting some direction to poltical movement. Rather than a movement expanding out from the source of a vanguard and its actions, it is the vanguard that arises from the great diversity of poltical ideologies within a revolutionary movement, in a process of winnowing down of political and ideological forces.

A little later you write, "The underpinning of Stan's line, as well as forces like the EZ – is that we cannot, in any fundamental, revolutionary sense, win." This is where I think we differ, the underpinnings of their line, or at least the EZLN, is that we don't know how to win, but we know how to not win, so until we can figure out the former it's not a bad idea to make sure to not recreate the latter. But I guess the question revolves around your understanding of what it means to win and what a revolution is. Let me just say that I think the underpinnings of both the EZLN and Stan's line are more ambivalent than you've made them appear.

Chris wrote:

"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."

I agree with this comment very much, and I think it goes quite a way to answering both Leftclick and Chuck Morse. There did seem to be something of an assumption, on Chuck's part, that the failures of Leninism somehow justified anarchism, but we don't see answers regarding our particular conjuncture in the US from either ideological extreme. And there was that distortion, on Leftclick's part, which refused to recognize the "accumulation of anomalies". In the more global sense, it remains the case that their is no ONE model, just a similar goal.

Burningman writes:

"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?"

The answer you want is very clear, but I disagree that they're non-sectarian. If they were truly non-sectarian they would have been FOUNDED on a unity basis, not in the way in which they were founded. They would have approached all those that they demand unite with them now, the same groups which are then rightly accused of sectarianism, they would have approached these groups at the founding and created a Call on the basis of a political unity with them. To put it in terms of the CCP KMT united front, it was not by any means a unilaterally defined unity on the part of the CCP. Instead, in our situation, they created something which was carefully crafted to alienate the base from these very organizations, which they then claim are being sectarian. It seems sectarian to me, even as it claims to be something else.

On the other hand, in a swamp of sectarianism, it is the ONLY organization aimed at the goals you've outlined. But, I would add, "working toward" and succeeding are two very different things, and as far as I can tell they have failed, AND it's their own fault, AND they refuse to change course in even the slightest way. It's as if they're directed by Joseph Hazelwood.

Burning writes:

"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."

Perhaps paralyzed was too strong a word to describe MLMists in particular, but with regards to the american left at large, paralysis is the order of the day and MLMists have not broken through that.

Burning writes:

"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...)"

If it is not the only answer why do we need it? What would be another answer? I agree with you to the extent that you're suggesting that diversity in the political field is good and you're defending that, but it does seem, in the last instance, that MLM and Leninism have a claim to being THE one way forward. I mean some groups go so far as to suggest that if you're serious about revolution there is ONE person you HAVE to get to know.

Let me just say, without getting into those implicit and explicit claims, I think it is rather premature to be making such strident arguments on the way forward when the road hasn't even been opened. Not to get wrapped into the movement versus direction analogy of getting the car moving and then trying to direct it, but rather to go a step beyond this problem and question the disposition of the road itself.

Burning writes:

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


Chuck wrote:

"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 prospect is scary, just because of the possibilities of getting completely lost, but I think you're right. But I also agree with Burningman when he said, "I would phrase it differently, as Modern Pitung did, as simply 'thinking.'" Mainly to make clear that we are not starting from zero in anyway, but building off of and from our current situation and our history.

Finally, I would like to quickly address two comments from "R to the C":

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

I hope you realize you ended up doing just what you claimed no interest in.

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

I would agree with you, with regards to this thread, if I thought Leninism could encompass all the positions in it. In a more general sense I think we would agree that MLM is not static.


The other side of the 'sectarian' argument is the desire to construct a unity at all costs. What this tends to lead to is a lowest common denominator politics that is consistent with the local-is-everything approach.

I will concede that there is some element of competition among groups in the sense that each believes they have the best political analysis/strategy and wants to have the widest influence possible. Part of that is distinguishing between each other's politics which only makes sense. Having political differences is not inherently sectarian! It is the only good rationale for different groups to form. It is only when those differences are secondary and outweigh more substantial points of unity that we have sectarianism. Neither Goff nor anyone here seems to want to make the distinction.

Even as Goff indicates the failures of Leninism to take hold among the masses, his analyses is shallow. He even goes as far as to say we can't refer to history [eg, the Cold War] to help us explain it. this is similar to anarchist demands that we explain the history of the Soviet Union without discussing history - it must solely be a consequence of the inherent authoritarianism in Marxism.

It might be noted that no local-based initiatives in the US has overturned capitalism here either. I know this argument could be seen as a deflection but I wanted to point out the opportunist inconsistency in method.

My 2¢ for now.


repeater writes:

"And there was that distortion, on Leftclick's part, which refused to recognize the "accumulation of anomalies"."

What distortion?

G. Frohman

"R-C-MF-P" writes:

"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?"

Well, that's easy enough. From "On the Crisis of Socialism," one of FRSO/OSCL's basic unity documents:

"Socialism is embarked upon with the ultimate political act: the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state power. Certainly in the U.S., whose imperialist dominance rests more and more on military might alone, it is impossible to envision a road to socialism that does not involve revolution.

"Insofar as socialist society remains a class society rent by class contradictions, with the decisive struggles occurring at the political level, socialism is in essence a class dictatorship over the bourgeoisie. At the same time, we reject any notion of class dictatorship that implies a dictatorial form of government, that identifies the dictatorship of the proletariat with an ever-expanding state apparatus, that calls for proletarian dictatorship over rather than alliance with society's middle strata, or that implies a dictatorship of any ruling party over the people as a whole.

"The dictatorship of the proletariat is at heart the ever-expanding organization, expression and, when necessary, enforcement of the popular will at all levels of society, in order to gradually eliminate classes and exploitation. Strengthening this class dictatorship--and not the state apparatus itself--is the essence of the socialist transition, and mass socialist democracy--not state repression--must be its linchpin."

I would venture that the appropriate order of things is: (1) investigation, (2) posting. Not the other way 'round.

the burningman

I essentially agree with that excerpt from the FRSO document.

Anyone here who doesn't?

Modern Pitung

Aside from a gratuitous note on how "R to the C" contradicts himself on the whole "I don't want to debate the relative merits of Freedom Road." thing, there's a lot to be unpacked here. Chief among them:

>>Refoundation is specifically an argument against forming a revolutionary communist party.<<

Nowhere has FRSO argued against the necessity of the party to revolution and socialism. We have always argued for building revolutionary organization and the Party.

The role of Left Refoundation in FRSO was not to impede our efforts to build revolutionary organization and the Party, but to approach it with a clarity of view, and to prepare the Left (on as large a scale as possible) for the enormity of that task -- that there are objective as well as subjective factors involved in the creation of the Party.

That is all to say, the Party isn't just a thing willed into being -- you don't get to just enter a room, do some line struggle, and come out the undisputed heavyweight proletarian champions of the world. The principle error of the era of "Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type" was just that kind of shotgun, subjective approach, that ignored objective conditions and produced groups that were not homogeneous within (e.g., the follies of PRRWO/"The Wing") or resorted to dogmatism as a binding element that guarded them from becoming homogeneous without (the CPML).

As for the charge on the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat (that we dumped it): the Road's ideological role in the period of crisis in socialism is to be clear on what the revolutionary d of the p *is not*. We staked a good amount on having FRSO be clear that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is neither the farce of "real existing socialism" and its spies, nor the whole spectacle of Tiananmen. A line that I, as a person who joined the FRSO/OSCL post-split, appreciate it for taking.

As for our affirmation of a positive position revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat: I will argue that our line on the topic is grounded in the work of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. I will argue that the Road's position -- and a truly Marxist position -- is that the greatest form of upholding of ideas is to be found in bringing these ideas put into the grasp of the masses. Which is a vital component of the work we do among the masses, in winning them over to revolutionary socialism, and in preparing them for all that entails. And it is something that we are continuing to expand.

I will say that the question "R to the C" puts is wrongheaded in that s/he is using the RCP's yardstick -- that is to say, measuring commitment to an idea in sheer volume of Talmudic commentaries on it. To be blunt, I half suspect that this metric, this mis-measure of a theory, has less to do with the affirming the dictatorship of the proletariat than maintaining the Chairmanship of the RCP.


to leftclick

I thought you distorted the issue when you wrote this:

"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."

This really doesn't characterize the situation accurately, and I don't think it accurately characterizes Goff's analysis. So I think it distorts both.


repeater -

sorry but i stand by my initial assessment. yes, my statement was flippant, and a lot more needed to be said, but i've heard this kind of pragmatic bullshit often: leninist parties haven't made a revolution so the solution is local-based action. guess what, i've already read the max elbaum book.

my statement was based on my frustration with people who always talk about how m-l parties have no mass base in this country as if they were the first ones to bring it up. if anything, it's goff who distorts by acting as if the socialist movement had not been agonizing over these issues for decades.

here are a couple of quotes:

"Any revolutionary movement that has a prayer of taking hold in the US must be organic, that is, self-organizing… and consist of small and many independent, but networked, practical efforts."

"It is time we start reconstructing Marxism to explain the real world, instead of dreaming of catastrophic scenarios that will restore the real world to compliance with our Marxist class-reductionist dogma.” [approvingly quoted from a friend]

see anything here you haven't seen before? lack of originality is not his problem but his 'woe is me' tone is irritating. re-inventing the wheel is hard work it seems.

did i deny the accumulation of anomalies? absolutely not. i believe that leninism should always by subject to critical scrutiny, and that 'classical' leninism is problematic. making the same old tired, and unsupported assertions about communism being an 'alien' ideology or how democratic centralism is 'imposed' doesn't help.

anyway i wrote a more substantial post above.


I think you're missing the point, this isn't about Goff. It is about a model which is being applied to no avail for a very long period of time. Yes people have agonized about it, but to what ends?

Do I agree with Goff's assesment of the problem, or his answers to it? No. But the problem exists. It just seemed to me you were calling this recognition itself pragmatic. It seems a reality to me.

Leninist parties have not made a revolution, that doesn't mean that Goff is right or any other ideological grouping is right, as you've noted they haven't had anymore success. So we're left with a fact, but no truth. I guess I would just argue for reading between the lines and for seeing the extent to which Goff is correct, as clearly as you see the extent to which he's wrong.

I think there's more there than the same old tired assertions about culture and hierarchy.

And I think the fact that we're seeing repetition of the same themes over and over again, should help us to locate and clarify contradictions. I don't think that it should be approached with exasperation, but with renewed interest.

And you're right that you didn't deny the accumulated anomalies, you simply passed over them without notice, while simultaneously dismissing Goff's assesments, BASED on THOSE anomalies, using exaggeration and distortion.

you wrote in your previous post:

"I will concede that there is some element of competition among groups in the sense that each believes they have the best political analysis/strategy and wants to have the widest influence possible. Part of that is distinguishing between each other's politics which only makes sense. Having political differences is not inherently sectarian! It is the only good rationale for different groups to form. It is only when those differences are secondary and outweigh more substantial points of unity that we have sectarianism. Neither Goff nor anyone here seems to want to make the distinction."

The distinction is important, and I think it is being made. But I would ask you what side of the distinction are you on? I mean does Goff's assesment of democratic centralism and his emphasis on local, immediate, spontaneous politics preclude any unity with him? Howabout the differences with FRSO, or EZLN, or SDS? Can you unite with any of them? Will you?


Goff's piece, though academic in language, is really not that profound. Making revolution is fucking hard, especially in the belly of the beast. Goff's twisted arguments are just an excuse for the liquidation of revolutionary possiblity. Check out Avakian's response to K. Venu in "Democracy, More than ever we can and must do better." K. Venu's repudiation of Leninism (and Avakian's response) was written during a much more demoralizing time (1992), and Goff repeats many of the same arguments -- class reductionism, etc.

Sorry if I said something someone else already said, I haven't had time to read the other posts.

by way of answer

"does Goff's assesment of democratic centralism and his emphasis on local, immediate, spontaneous politics preclude any unity with him? Howabout the differences with FRSO, or EZLN, or SDS? Can you unite with any of them? Will you?"

One would hope. Stan is a character, and I wish him well. Part of me thinks he might be more interesting as a loose cannon.

A few of the comments are right that his criticisms aren't exactly new, but part of a long history of radical democratic sentiment in this country in particular.

The idea that revolutionary communism is somehow "alien" to the American fiber is also nothing new. The same claim is made everywhere on earth, usually as part of a general acceptance of whatever local ruling class and customs we have to face.

Radicals who are essentially communists have praised allah (liks Tudeh in Iran back when) and so on.

What Stan will find, as I think the ideas he's embracing are not fully formed, is that he's going to end up with "all tail, no dog."

Not too different from what he advocated when he was nomially attached to Freedom Road. That's why there's a discussion to be had.

Yadadamean: I don't think Goff is arguing "for" the liquidation of "any revolutionary possibility. I think he's arguing that there is no revolutionary possibility, and we should make plans accordingly.

If we can't go "face to face" with the enemy, go sideways.

ok enuf

Somewhere in this discussion, a basic point needs to be me:

What Goff is saying is wrong.

All the talk about him having a point should be considered, the subtleties of what he is perceiving should be considered, and so on.

But his argument is basically, clearly, utterly wrong. And he is discarding a revolutionary ideology and key points summed up from bitter history -- and if we were all to follow this and discard this, it would be a disaster for humanity.

And without such a clear verdict (admittedly fleshed out with real arguments and detail) the overall discussion loses a major and pivotal point.

ok enuf

typo alert:

"needs to be made" got contracted to "needs to be me."

cute perhaps, but not what I meant.

a foucaldian

"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."

There are reasons why it is a problem B. One in particular is that your boy Hegel as good as he was in many ways was one of many thinkers to make an unquestioned assumption on the old 2000+ year old metaphysical assumption of presence. People like Heidegger (him especially) and Derrida demystified that some time ago. Once you accept this then the orthodoxical Hegelian glue that holds variety vanguardism together falls to pieces.

PS I'm actually finishing up on the phenomenology of spirit right now.


Accept what, exactly?

a foucaldian

That the whole idea of foundational presence as such is baseless.


repeater -

goff has made a series of claims which, as i and others have noted, have been made before. his solution is not unique either. you say i should not be exasperated but how many times can you hear a creationist say "you can't explain this so it must be god" before you just don't want to deal with them anymore? but we must anyway don't we?

his claims rely on a combination of social-democratic and cold war anti-communist assertions that cannot be the starting point of any fruitful discussion. for instance, he claims that democratic centralism is axiomatic 'faith'. bullshit. m-l'ers have been looking at this issue since before lenin. worse he felt no need to justify his claim, relying on cold war prejudice to supply one for him. many would say that we have not been serious because if we were, we would have given up dc a long time ago. essentially, we should have come up with the conclusion before the question.

where are the limits of leninism revealed? in the seeming lack of tactical agility. this is actually related to the question of 'alienness'.

marxism [leninist or otherwise] is 'alien' to the us. in one important sense that's right, it would be alien to a society as dominated by pragmatism as ours. this is why leninism has such a hard time taking hold. there are 2 ways to deal with this: 1] continue to do mass work with a leninist orientation, try to win people over, all the while testing leninism's strengths and weaknesses against real world experience, or 2] dilute one's politics to the point where it can address local, immediate concerns making us indistinguishable from various social service agencies. the first limits m-l influence on the mass level because it requires a degree of popular acceptance. in the short term, tactical agility will suffer for this since strategy cannot be so easily or quickly applied in these circumstances. the second approach does allow for quick response but very little strategic orientation so that one is limited to continually fighting battle after battle without a larger orientation. goff forgets that even special forces missions are engaged only within the context of larger political concerns. even delta force cannot just do whatever they want.

by accepting the inevitability of m'l's 'alien' status we are only left with accommodation.

also, repeater, what accumulation of anomalies are you talking about? do you mean the consistent failure of leninist parties to make revolutions in the industrialized world? goff's, and others starting point is to look within 'doctrine' for failures. a more useful starting point would be lenin's 3 major features of a revolutionary situation: “(1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the "upper classes", a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for "the lower classes not to want" to live in the old way; it is also necessary that "the upper classes should be unable" to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in "peace time", but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the "upper classes" themselves into independent historical action. Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible.” [from The Collapse of the Second International]. you can dispute these features if you want, maybe even add to them,but they start from a materialist framework. if you can name situations in western countries that even approximate some of the above, where m-l parties continually fail, then i could see a case. while outrages like torture, katrina, stolen elections, etc., can contribute to a legitimacy crisis we are still a way off from a revolutionary crisis.

as for marxism being 'class-reductionist?' i could come up with a string of authors, including bolsheviks, who would prove the opposite. what goff and others of his thinking means is that we should treat class as just another oppression. class is foundational but not metaphysical. at its most basic it refers to the means by which we secure the necessities for physical living. it does not absolutely determine the forms of social life, but does define its possibilities and restrictions. while other oppressions are crucial, they cannot be transformed outside the context of class transformation, but revolution also requires a desire to transform all social relations, such as race and gender.

ironically, goff tries to bring in physics to argue for a physical reductionism. parties can't get too large because energy is a 'zero-sum' game. the whole argument isn't laid out here but physics does refer to non-living, non-sentient matter so i would be
skeptical about how far we can draw analogies.

as for sectarianism, no distinction was made. as i said, it is legitimate to emphasize difference over unity of only for a group to be able to justify its existence. other times, tactical unity must prevail. difference is not always a vice and unity not always a virtue. would i unite with stan, the ezln, sds? of course, but that's the wrong question. the question is: on what basis would i unite with them? should i give up my political/strategic priorities to maintain unity? what if i think a certain tactic would be counter-productive in the long run? would i be considered 'sectarian' for raising objections? the unprincipled, but often advocated, solution is maintain the unity with the minimum level of agreement.

now we come back to my seemingly 'deflective' argument from a previous post. those who argue for community-based organizations as the way forward have yet to make their pragmatic case. in my experience local organizations are just as dogma-prone as m-l groups but on a more bureaucratic, rather than ideological basis. more importantly, none of them have made revolutions either so i have to wonder what the attraction is? certainly local resistances are crucial to any revolutionary project but to suggest that they can do more than resist? maybe in quantum physics where all solutions are possible but at our atomic level, i dont see it.


in my last post, last paragraph, i said "in my experience local organizations are just as dogma-prone as m-l groups..."

i should have said "in my experience local organizations can be just as sectarian as m-l groups..." that makes more sense.

the perils of quick posting, initial formulations are not always as precise as i'd like.

the burningman

I don't know any active Marxist-Leninist groups that are "class reductionist" in the sense that they ignore the social/cultural tensions that we actually live through. This strawman is as old as Marx, and one he himself rejected.

Is Goff "wrong?"

I think he is, fundamentally.

But let's ask another question: who here can honestly see Red Flags rising up in North Carolina and representing the majority of people there?

Not this week, or next.

Or in Mississippie or Missouri?

This said, let me say why I disagree with Goff's 1) reduction of ML politics to formulations of old, even where existing MLM groups have (or are at least trying) to move beyond, and 2) his pragmatism in the "tyranny of the real" sense.

Goff rejects, or does not accept the possiblity of revolutionary change in the US. He says it pretty point blank, as do others who have made similar criticisms historically.

In the last sustained wave of radical struggle in our country, it took over a decade of activity before Leninism developed "organically" out of various social and political struggles. It's not common sense, it's a conscioius, uncommon and scientific worldview and method.

The issue Stan has is not, from what I can see, with the people or groups "trying" to use these insights, but that he doesn't believe they can attain their own stated goals.

That's a real position, and not about him being a "renegade," which is something he says the "feverish" are saying about him. I haven't seen that claim, or anything really even like that.

Lenin's point is that if movements of the working classes and oppressed peoples are reduced to their spontaneous "demands," that they will not even achieve these. That by extension, we must everywhere and always look to the radical (root) problem, and spread "class consciousness" among oppressed people working towards their "unity" behind a "politcal program" that can not just resist or demand, but bring the proletariat into the government of society as a whole.

Or, as Avakian has put it: do the masses have the right to rule?

I say yes, and proceed from that problem, which it should be obvious is no guarantee of anything.

That this is related what Goff found attractive in the Left Refoundation position seems accurate enough to me, even if uncomfortable to its adherents. It's not a slam.

Cobbling together disparate reform struggles, and viewing spontaneous or reformist struggles as more "genuine" is a way of cutting radical feet to fit the reformist shoe.

Revolution never seems possible until it is undeniable, and even then – as we see everywhere on earth when such issues arise – those pragmatic parties who make their way as intermediaries between bourgeois political parties and the masses will work to STOP such revolutionary transformation.

Leninism demands "consciousness" not some neverland "authenticity."

It always and everywhere "cuts against the grain."

It is the opposite of an orthodoxy, as Nepal is demonstrating right in front of our faces.


Have we found a magic bullet in a revolutionary method and ideology?

I don't think so, and have never in my life made that claim.

But look at Mexico: is our duty (!) just to support people in struggle?

We all do here, I think. But without a revolutionary vanguard party – looking to oust the ruling group and break imperialism's grip on Mexico: WILL THAT ACTUALLY HAPPEN?

I don't think so. We have to fight through to a conscious, militant and disciplined force that provides a counter-hegemony and the POLITICAL means to break the Mexican ruling classes – whether they support the PRD, PAN or the PRI.

Is that "dogmatism?" or Doctrine?

I think it's true. When the EZLN rose up, they did not break the plantation system of Chiapas or even DENT it! They didn't even try from what I know (and I'm eager to be proven wrong by new facts on the ground).

It was the Catholic neo-liberal party PAN that made the greatest gains in the break-up of the old PRI. Now three parties content in the bourgeois state, not one – but they all have the same root.

THAT is what a vanguard party of the proletariat, and its interest aims to fight. Not for a redivision of resources – but the "class suicide" of oppressed people.

That is not doctrine, and the very claim is about reducing the aspirations of people to something rigid, "historical" and itself truly outdated.

Maybe that's what Goff looked to in Leninism. It is the exact opposite of the kind of communism I've learned from Bob Avakian, something Goff sees as beneath comment.

When what people are doing doesn't fit your schematics, it won't pay to ignore it.


I respect Stan Goff and wish him luck on his journey. I think he is wrong. I also think, like somebody said above, that he isn't anti-revolutionary or anti-communist. He's just not a revolutionary communist. Neither are most people.

I read all of his books because they are interesting. I never looked to him for lessons in ideology or method.

In fact, I suspect he'll be a more interesting and better writer than he was with his now-discarded pragmatic "Marxism."

another 2c.

fellow traveler

Modern Pitung writes:

"I will say that the question "R to the C" puts is wrongheaded in that s/he is using the RCP's yardstick -- that is to say, measuring commitment to an idea in sheer volume of Talmudic commentaries on it."

If FRSO/Left Refoundation's position is summed up in literally two paragraphs over twenty years, we can be sure no one will accuse them of being Talmudic, let along actually engaging it.

I also don't think MLM forces, from Peru to Los Angeles to Rolpa are "Talmudic." They are communists building a communist movement, with a practice informed by a vigorous and ongoing theoretical engagement.

To call these forces Talmudic, in their genuine diversity, rightness and wrongness, is to apologize for what is weakest in your own trend instead of pushing it through.

So whatever you think about BA the man – I don't care. I suspect that almost clever comments pass for analysis is some circles, which says more about those methods than anything I could claim.

Curt dismissal, "we all know", and off to a "new Rainbow" with, fear not, no "Talmudic" commentaries on how that turned out the last time around.

fellow traveler

Just for the record, I was "R to the C" and changed my name to avoid confusion about who I was speaking for. They speak for themselves just fine. I am a former member from a ways back. Life didn't allow me the ability to continue on a professional revolutionary and there's not much afoot where I live. I'm not against Freedom Road and have never met them, so I can't judge their practice. I can judge what I read. Call me rabbi if you want, at least they know how to argue!


I am a little curious about why, in all the commentary here and elsewhere, there is so little said on the subject of gender, which figures heavily into my own decision to drop affiliation with US-based ML formations.


stan -

because your account of gender and how it affects all the dynamics we've been discussing is muddled and unclear.

how does gender play out in sectarianism, dogmatism, marxism as 'alien', the integration of physics? you made scattered comments here and there but nothing sustained.

you said: "But this is not the crux of the issue for me. Feminism was the gateway to a number of other interrogations of the assumptions of organized Marxism." i took you at your word.

the burningman

I can't speak for others, and maybe they will answer here or on your own Feral Scholar discussion. []

Not having read your most recent book, I can't comment on your full analysis. But in my own experience, it is exactly among organized communists I have encountered the most egalitarian relationships. I don't often agree with some of the ways in which they moralize sexuality, in what has historically been somewhat puritanical for lack of a better word, but I can also say that when I see MLM forces fighting – it is the women with guns that demonstrates in the most basic way that they will no longer be subordinate.

Say what you will about Gonzalo, but it is Edith Lagos who is the great martyr of that war, beloved by the people of Ayacucho in her time and buried with honors after she fell in combat.

Say what you will about the "peripheral" fighting in Nepal, but in a country where women have been traded as a commodity up until today, sexually trafficked to India and traded for animals internally, this isn't just a photo op. It's the coming of love marriages in place of arrangements, and the rise of women to leadership for all, not just their own auxilieries.

This commitement to women's liberation in a living way, not through the blind alleys of what was called "Radical Feminism" and the resulting identity politics, is what brings out with due clarity the commitment of revolutionary communism to (what I call) popular agency. Or as others say "making the road by walking."

In fact, from the time I was a member of the RCYB, among the cadrified, revolutionary-minded activists of SLAM, and today along the periphery of the RCP – I have virtually always taken political leadership from women. I never reported in any formal sense to a man. Ever.

I was raised by a tough woman, 4'10" tall, a dead shot with her pearl-handled .357 and an abiding love of Brecht and Chang Ching. That was my mother, Stan – and she called herself a communist, not a "feminist" in the sense that she wasn't seeking her own upward mobility, but the liberation of all humanity through the organized power of the proletariat. Not to say it was all so simple, that she didn't find limitations even among her own so to speak – and more importantly among the social bases she sought to build EXACTLY the kind of "organic" movements of which you speak...

Knowing intimately that such people have walked the earth, I can't pretend otherwise – or accept the conceptual limitations and third-hand accounts that too often stand in place of these real lives, real struggles and real "concrete" ideology.

This is certainly not true in other movements, where who is the "most" oppressed sit and duel with each other through their constituency honcho proxies... where men line up to be militants and women literally form knitting circles and "radical cheerleaders" in fishnet stockings. (Kidding you not.)

That said – this is not thirty years ago. Rank male chauvinism is *rarely* tolerated – and people are at least trying to fully incorporate a variety of feminist and women's liberation critiques.

I look out at the larger world, among the Democrats who tell us to stop fighting for abortion or the fundamentalists who literally murder women in "honor crimes" and widow burnings... and I think, "what world is Stan talking about?"

It is MLM, and other revolutionary left movements, that are almost the ONLY conscious forces fighting for anything even like women's liberation. Not the liberals, not the nationalists – and not Sadr, that "organic" theocrat reactionary...

Maybe becasue we don't recognize your criticism in our own practice or organizations, we don't know HOW to respond. Maybe that means we're missing something deep – but I don't think so.

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