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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 http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/fit/fitpaul.htm.
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.