Friday, August 23, 2013

Two More Old Reviews: Pertaining to Lenin

The first is a direct commentary on the limitations of Lenin's critique of the state in State and Revolution and why it is insufficient as a Marxian conception of the state and the political.  I am linking to the appendix to the article which argued that Lenin was not a "Red Fascist" as the anarchist milieu contends.  The review was published by an left communist/anarcho-communist group in Czechoslovakia where it apparently drew the ire of some prominent ex-Stalinist academic.

Contra State and Revolution and Why Leninism is Not Red Fascism

Lastly, this is a link to an article I wrote for Historical Materialism.  They might sue me to take the article down.  It would not be the first time they have threatened the someone for the dissemination of pieces they have published in the public domain, even with the author's approval.

This review took up a collection of articles edited by Werner Bonefeld and Sergio Tischler.  Werner Bonefeld has had a profound impact on what I understand Marxism and being a Marxian thinker to be.  I owe Werner and John Holloway, in fact the entire Open Marxism group, a deep debt for introducing me to a Marx steeped in Hegel, to the German Left influenced by the Frankfurt School.  Whatever my criticisms (obviously the review of Holloway, et al on Adorno is not forgiving), I gratefully acknowledge their profound influence.  That influence is all over my review of State and Revolution and I could not have written it without their inspiration and theoretical insights.  The reviews also owes a debt to Paresh Chattopadhyay, who has written some of the finest essays on the meaning of Marx's work and the class nature of the Soviet Union.

Review of "What Is To Be Done? New Times and the Anniversary of a Question"

This review, more than most, reflects the last gasps of my own interest in organizations of communists and the fact that I had not yet worked through my own critique of capital fully, which can be found in the earlier essays on this blog.



    What do you make of this assessment of S&R?

    Generally it does seem like for many Marxists and some anarchists this is their favorite work of Lenin's so the angle of critiquing it is quite interesting.

    1. Do you personally position yourself close to the Left Communist tradition?

  2. Eric,

    I have not read the article, though I will as soon as I can.

    On the matter of my relationship to any particular tradition, that is more complicated.

    The short answer is that politically I feel much closer to aspects of the Left Communist traditions, but there is no one Left Communist Tradition. Therefore I find points of commonality with the Italian Communist Left of Bordiga, but also in its decline around Cammatte. Similarly with the German-Dutch Communist Left and to a lesser degree the German-Dutch Councilists. I have drawn on CLR James, Cornelius Castoriadas, and Raya Dunayevskaya, as well as Italian Operaismo and Autonomia.

    My profound theoretical engagement however is almost entirely with two strands of Marxian thought that I also consider quite close and generally think of synonymously as "Marxian Critical Theory": The Frankfurt School of Social Research and it's descendants, especially Gillian Rose and Moishe Postone, but also Gaspar M. Tamas, the journals Krisis and Exit!, and a host of wonderful persons not famous or infamous enough to name, but also Helmut Reichelt, Hans-Georg Backhaus and the British and German radicals influenced by them, and the Situationist International. The basic reason for this comes down to the fact that they took ("take", for the living) more seriously than any of the political tendencies, the need to think the present, the need to take ideas seriously, the need to engage with reflection on experience. They, like Marx with Capital and the Grundrisse, have left behind moments that remain rich for us today.

    There is very little of the politics and political positions held by anyone from 1890 to 1968 that pertains to the present. People who simply want to reproduce those politics in the present may exist in the present, but their politics and their ideas are merely the living dead.

  3. I have read the commentary and I have some rough thoughts.

    No doubt, Lenin's intent with the pamphlet was as the author notes:
    "Consequently, despite its form of presentation, the primary objective of State and Revolution is not the scholarly exegesis of the works of Marx and Engels on the state but the production of the proletarian revolution. Given that much of the text is a long commentary on Marx and Engels, there is the danger of reading the text as Lenin’s attempt to provide the definitive Marxist account of the state by sticking as faithfully as possible to the essential teachings of the masters. But if we look closely, it’s clear that Lenin does not at all compose a faithful, disinterested, or objective intellectual history. Lenin gives a rather biased reading, picking phrases from here and there, offering very liberal interpretations of certain passages, and, to put it bluntly, distorting Marx and Engels almost as much as Bernstein or Kautsky, the figures he attacks in State and Revolution precisely for their own distortions of the pure teachings of Marx and Engels. Far from offering a loyal presentation of the Marxist theory of the state, Lenin is carefully extracting out of Marx and Engels those elements necessary for properly theorizing the actuality of the revolution in his own time."

    However if this is the case, then it is clear that Lenin's entire conception of "the revolution" is political, that is, is entirely divorced from the transformation of social relations other than political relations, as is evident from Lenin's quip at one point that he will take the working class as it is. The long-term result is evident in the fact that political power, which for the soviets as direct workers' power was short-lived, to the extent that it did not also entail a restructuring of the daily life of the working class in production - and here one should think of Lenin's praising of Taylorism, the Bolshevik's "military communism", Trotsky's demands for the permanence of militarization, and so on - was a power fundamentally without teeth.

  4. That being said, I don't think that the G-D Communist Left or Councilists ever grasped this either. Lenin was not especially bad in this respect, but reflected the notion of his time in the working class that the change of political power was more important than the transformation of everyday life. It should be noted that it took both the failures of the revolutions from 1917-1937 for this to begin to become evident, alongside of drastic changes in capital's organization of the labor process. After all, is it accidental that Rubin, Pashukanis and the like only come about in the crisis and defeat of the Russian Revolution from within by the Bolshevik Party itself?

    Further, the article ignores, in the name of taking Lenin in his own time, the fact that this work was taken, from 1918 on by the Bolsheviks and all of their progeny as THE Marxist statement on the state. I never met a Leninist sect or Orthodox Marxist that did not see this as the classic statement until, essentially, the State Debate that began in the 1970's with Ralph Miliband vs. Nicos Poulantzas (Social Democracy versus EuroCommunism) that spilled over into Germany in very interesting ways.

    In fact, to suggest that we read Lenin pamphlet the way he does, the author is that it is irrelevant for the present, unless one accepts his reading of Marx. This may be the worst part of the article. To divide the way as reading Marx between "a number of invariant theories" versus "a congeries of programs all tied to concrete historical moments in the class struggle" is to completely misconstrue Marx's work in Capital and the Grundrisse, and other like works, and Marx's attempts to navigate the practical politics of his day in which even in England the working class was a minority, much less in Europe, or the world. Sometimes the two came together, and in others they seemed quite at odds. The most interesting artifacts of Marx's practical engagement are probably the texts around the Paris Commune, the Critique of the Gotha Program, which Lenin completely mis-comprehends, and Marx's writing on Russia in the 1870's and 80's.

    I would suggest, therefore, that we absolutely do not ready Marx like Lenin read Marx, that is, as proposing a largely political analysis for (party) activists to discern the right program. If there was a moment where that seemed viable, I would suggest that people take seriously the complete, and ever-deepening, failure and of that approach by a more and more anachronistic and shrinking (often Leninist) Left that cannot grasp that the composition of capital isn't merely political.

    On that level, I am not unsupportive of the International Communist Group's materials, as far as they go, on Lenin and Social Democracy, the present conjuncture, etc. The organization itself speaks in a highly insular, sectarian manner, but many of their theoretical points are quite sound (I have in mind the Theses of Programmatical Orientation, The revolutionary movement in Germany (1917-1923), The social democrat conception of transition to socialism, and General characteristics of the struggles of the present time.)