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Five points in response to Pham Binh

By Paul Le Blanc

"The creation of healthy, democratic and cohesive revolutionary organisations on the Leninist model is both possible and necessary, in my opinion."

February 1, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- I am sorry that Pham Binh has chosen to respond in the way that he has to my criticism of his article ("Mangling the party: Tony Cliff's Lenin"). I will make only a few comments here to help clear up misunderstandings.

1. My critical comment about Pham’s article not providing us with anything useful for those engaged in today’s struggles was not a judgment about him as a person or about all things that he may have written about the Occupy movement or anything else. A substantial review article having to do with building the revolutionary party, however, should contain (in my opinion) something of value for those of us who are committed to such things.

2. Pham writes: “Does Le Blanc agree that Lenin broke rule six by organising ‘completely new’ committees after the 1903 congress? Yes or no?”

Yes, the rule was broken. But the functioning of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) had already been broken (as described in Lenin’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back), which I think justified the actions of Lenin and his comrades in ignoring rule 6 and setting up a Bolshevik organisation in Russia independently of the RSDLP central committee. In the aftermath of the 1903 Party congress, the Bolshevik majority on the central committee was (legally) transformed into a Menshevik majority (actually, a totally Menshevik body), which most certainly did not “organize ... direct ... or conduct undertakings” of the Bolshevik groups. To repeat, this was done, instead, by Lenin, Krupskaya and others.

3. It is a definite plus that Pham now agrees that a debate actually did take place at the 1905 Bolshevik conference, a debate that initially he denied had taken place. (By the way, relating to point #2 above, this conference was also organised independently of the Menshevik central committee.) Pham now says: “The debate at the 1905 third congress was over how recruit workers, not whether to recruit workers.” Okay.

4. Pham mistakenly asserts that I utilise only secondary sources in showing that the Bolsheviks became a separate party in 1912. But the accounts of participants in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (such as Krupskaya and Zinoviev and Trotsky) are primary sources. Also, the fact remains that the “liquidators” were considered by Lenin and company to be not only those (such as Potresov) who called for liquidating the illegal party organisations, but also those Mensheviks (such as Martov) who refused to break from the liquidators, together accounting for almost all of the Mensheviks. A very small group of “party Mensheviks”, who were gathered around Plekhanov, were invited to join with the Bolsheviks to set up a separate party without “liquidators”. Only a couple of them (without the participation or support of Plekhanov) were involved in the conference. The documents Pham quotes do not obliterate these realities, which are established by a number of primary as well as secondary sources. If Pham wishes to believe that the Bolsheviks did not have an independent party until some unspecified time in 1917, it is – of course – his democratic right to do so.

5. In his article, Pham made reference to the “secret expulsions and other abuses of power by party officials that plague all ‘Leninist’ organisations”. In my critique, I wrote that “as someone who has belonged to more than one organisation considering itself to be Leninist, and as a scholar who has studied other such organisations, I must challenge this assertion that ‘secret expulsions and other abuses of power’ plague all such organisations that I have belonged to and studied. It is simply not true.”

Pham responds: “Sadly, two of the ‘Leninist’ groups Le Blanc belonged to engaged in such practices, the first most dramatically in the 1980s under the reign of Jack Barnes and the second more recently during the past two years (and perhaps earlier as well; most group members know almost nothing of the group’s history).”

For those who are curious, much of the negative history of the Socialist Workers Party of the United States in the 1980s (from which I was expelled) is documented in three books of documents available on-line:

I have been a member of the International Socialist Organization since 2009 and would not agree that it can be characterised as being anything like the US SWP of the 1980s. I do not believe there have been “secret expulsions” and regardless of one or another former member complaining of undemocratic abuses, it strikes me as a fairly open and democratic organisation. Another Leninist organisation to which I belonged was the Fourth Internationalist Tendency (1984-92), an admirable and quite democratic group, in my view -- see

From my studies, the same is basically true of the Bolshevik party under Lenin. In the United States, it is also true of the Communist Party of the United States up to 1924 or so, the Communist League of America, the Workers Party of the United States and the Socialist Workers Party from 1938 at least up to the 1960s or 1970s. I do not claim that this is an exhaustive list.

These are the reasons that I reject Pham’s assertion that “secret expulsions and other abuses of power by party officials . . . plague all ‘Leninist’ organisations”.

The creation of healthy, democratic and cohesive revolutionary organisations on the Leninist model is both possible and necessary, in my opinion. It is important for us to learn from those who went before us, both positive and negative lessons, in order to help build the organisations, movements and struggles that can move us to a socialist future. In other contexts and writings, it is to be hoped that Comrade Pham can contribute positively to such efforts.


point by point

1. "A substantial review article having to do with building the revolutionary party, however, should contain (in my opinion) something of value for those of us who are committed to such things."

My book review never claimed to have anything to do with "building the revolutionary party." My focus was more narrow in scope.

2. My understanding is that the Bolshevik committees that agitated for a new congress made up a majority of the 1903 congress delegates. They had a right to do this under the RSDLP's rules. The Menshevik-controlled central committee refused to do so and thereby broke the RSDLP's rules.

3. "It is a definite plus that Pham now agrees that a debate actually did take place at the 1905 Bolshevik conference, a debate that initially he denied had taken place."

Hilarious! In my review, I said the following: "The problem with Cliff’s account is that Lenin and the Bolsheviks never fought about either recruiting workers to party committees or democratising the party at the third congress." LeBlanc believes I have flip-flopped on this issue, but this is not so.

The fight at the 1905 congress was not about recruiting workers or democratising the party; Cliff (following Schwarz) claimed party activists fought against recruiting workers to the RSDLP, quoting Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?" in their arguments. This was false, not true, a lie.

LeBlanc jumps for joy over my imaginary flip-flop but does not criticize Tony Cliff for plagiarizing false information. Strange.

4. Interesting fact: Lenin never used the phrase "Bolshevik party" in his writings and speeches in the 1912-1916 period. All the references using that phrase in his Collected Works are in footnotes and explanations written by editors. The phrase, "Bolshevik party," is only used by Lenin himself in 1917.

Perhaps Lenin was just exercising his "democratic right" to be wrong on this issue?

5. People were expelled in the D.C. and Boston branches of the ISO organization in 2010. In only the cases involving two individuals was the membership informed. Some of the details can be found here: and here: If you read the second link carefully you'll find that this person was also denied the right to appeal, a violation of the group's own constitution, because she was expelled in a highly irregular manner.

This is not counting at least one similar incident in 2011.

joy and plagiarism

I would like to offer corrections on a single sentence in Pham's "point by point," in which he writes: "LeBlanc jumps for joy over my imaginary flip-flop but does not criticize Tony Cliff for plagiarizing false information. Strange."

In my article "Revolutionary Method in the Study of Lenin" I wrote the following: "Other problems [with Cliff's book on Lenin] have been noted. Even before he published the charge, Lars Lih alerted me to the fact that at least one section of Cliff’s first volume on Lenin contains, almost word-for-word, passages from Solomon Schwarz’s important study The Russian Revolution of 1905: the Workers' Movement and the Formation of Bolshevism and Menshevism – with footnotes citing Schwarz but with the actual passages presented as if Cliff himself had written them." I consider this to be a criticism of Cliff.

Pham does not demonstrate that Schwarz presented "false information," and he doesn't even demonstrate that he has examined the contents of Schwarz's richly-documented book, which provides material (on pages 216-220) that seems to be consistent with assertions made by Krupskaya and Trotsky on the 1905 debate among Bolsheviks (these three accounts forming much of the basis for my own understanding). In that section Lenin is quoted as saying at the 1905 Bolshevik conference: "I could not sit quietly when it was said that there were no workers fit to be committee members. The question is being put off; evidently there is some sickness in the Party. Workers must be brought into the committees." A slightly different translation of this can be found in Lenin's Collected Works, Volume 8, page 411, with Lenin's contributions to the debate presented on pages 407-412.

I did not consider Pham to have "flip-flopped" on the question of this 1905 debate -- I was simply under the impression, in his response to me, that he had backed away from denying that there had been such a debate. I did not "jump for joy" (what causes Pham to say a thing like that?), though I did feel good over what I thought was a partial convergence of our positions on this question. Pham will have none of that and sticks to his guns. I misunderstood him and am truly sorry.

no harm done

My formulation was not clear, so of course it gave rise to misunderstandings on the part of readers. Much of the controversy surrounding my book review is based on my particular turns of phrase or ambiguous wording on my part. My aim was to add clarity but unfortunately many have come to the conclusion that I am simply out to "get Cliff," someone I never met or had any direct dealings with.

No clue

Pham Binh's decision to believe and link to a totally scurrilous blog post accusing the ISO of "de-POCification"— ie. "purging" members of color(!)— shows what this debate, sadly, is about for him.

His efforts aren't directed at having a constructive dialogue to better understand Lenin. If they were he wouldn't use the snide, uncomradely tone he directs at Paul Le Blanc, or re-post baseless sectariana. Binh's chief aim here (and elsewhere) is to "prove" how useless and awful organized socialists are today.

How he thinks this contributes to building the kind of non-sectarian left he calls for, I have no clue.


Here we go again, complaining about tone instead of discussing content.

You don't like the title of the blog I linked but, again, ignore the content contained therein.

The only thing awful here is your line of reasoning: a book review somehow becomes a sectarian attack aimed at proving "how useless and awful organized socialists are today."

What's awful and useless is the unwillingness to actually engage the arguments, history, and evidence presented in my two pieces. What's worse is LeBlanc's willful distortions in defense of Cliff's distortions.

If your claims are true, I wonder why Lars Lih is now going to weigh in on some of these issues?

86 the Whining, Andy

Frankly, I am sick to death of the ISO whining every single time an account from an ex-member shows up on the internet. If the ISO did not mistreat and emotionally abuse people in its ranks before and during the expulsion process, then these accounts would not exist. So Andrew wants us all to believe him and his organization and write off all critics as liars and sectarians? Sorry, I know that the ISO hates the internet and all, but those ex-member accounts are not sectarian, they are a part of the ISO's history.

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