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Paul Le Blanc: Revolutionary organisation and the ‘Occupy moment’

Occupy Pittsburgh, October 15, 2011.

[For more discussion on revolutionary organisation, click HERE. Articles on left unity can be found HERE. The Occupy movement is discussed HERE.]

By Paul Le Blanc

February 16, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The Occupy movement has been having a profound impact on the socialist left in the United States. I want to share some information on this, focusing on my own experience, and relate it to broader issues of Marxism and organisation that I have been engaged with for some time.

In my native Pittsburgh, members of the International Socialist Organization, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Workers International League and Committees of Correspondence, plus a number of independent socialists have been active (some more, some less) in the Occupy movement. I know similar things can be said of the Occupy movement in a number of other cities. More than this, one can easily find substantial reports, animated discussions and analyses about the Occupy movement in publications and on websites associated with the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Solidarity, Socialist Action, Committees of Correspondence, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the Socialist Party, Socialist Alternative, Workers International League, Workers World Party, the Party for Socialism and Liberation – and I am confident that the list is not complete. All of this is easily accessible online. And all of these organisations, I think, are wrestling with the question of what new tasks are raised for us by the Occupy movement in which many of us are actively involved.

Some (for example Pham Binh in a recent contribution published in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal) have called for us all to merge together in a single revolutionary organisation, implying that this would make us more effective at this key moment. Based on my own experience, it seems obvious to me that this would be a serious mistake. Here I will argue that there is a better approach, consistent both with my experience and with a party-building perspective that I have been writing about for some time.

Coming together in a common revolutionary party

In Pittsburgh, members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Workers International League and my own ISO are not in the same organisation. This has not prevented us from working quite well together in anti-war, pro-public transport and Occupy-related struggles. If instead – in an effort to create a single socialist group – we were enmeshed in struggles with each other over what should be our common political program, how we should define the very conception of socialism, etc., I think our ability to work effectively would be undermined. Now we can agree to disagree on certain principled questions (to be discussed and debated in appropriate contexts) while forming a positive working relationship around questions where we stand on common ground.

Ultimately, people from these groups may come together in the same revolutionary socialist organisation – just as many Bolsheviks, for example, found themselves together in the Russian Communist Party with comrades who had been Mensheviks, Left-Socialist Revolutionaries, Bundists, anarchists and others. There was a similar coming-together process in the formation of the early Communist movement in the United States and other countries. Momentous experiences and historical forces have a way of bringing revolutionaries from different backgrounds together. Such forces are at work, and such experiences are shaping up, that can bring such an outcome to the United States in the future.

Many of us on the US socialist left agree on the need for such an organisation. A working-class revolution and socialist transformation in the United States will not come about spontaneously. It will come about only if knowledgeable activists and skilled organisers, dedicated to such goals, work very hard to bring them about. This would add up to a US equivalent to what Bolshevism was in Russia. Such a thing cannot be forced through cobbling together different socialist groups. Nor will it be a replica of Russian Bolshevism. But the effort to bring such a thing into existence can be strengthened, as we are intimately involved in the struggles of our time, by critically engaging with the ideas and experiences of Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci, and other revolutionary Marxists from the 20th century’s early communist movement, as well as by the history of US class struggles and revolutionary traditions.

As we engage in the struggles of today and tomorrow, the theory and history of those who went before should be pondered and shared as widely and deeply as possible. Those who are growing into effective activists and organisers in the mass struggles unfolding in our time can benefit from this. Such activists, and the growing number of workers and oppressed people who increasingly share in their vision, also absorbing their knowledge and political skills, can grow into a powerful force to bring about the political, social and economic transformation that we need. As a mass phenomenon, this becomes part of a broad labour-radical subculture, nourishing a revolutionary class consciousness that will animate a substantial and increasingly influential layer of the working class – which constitutes a working-class “vanguard” that is the only serious basis for the US equivalent of Bolshevism.

As Lenin explained in Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, any effort to create a cohesive, disciplined revolutionary party in the absence of such a development will result in phrase-mongering and pretentious clowning destined to fall flat on its face. (Many of us have certainly seen examples of that!) Yet as Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and others have also emphasised, it will take the dynamic and creative interplay of genuine mass struggles and a serious party of the socialist vanguard to bring about the revolutionary power shift, the radical democracy, and the socialist reconstruction of society that are so badly needed. That is the goal, and its realisation transcends current existence of all existing organisations on the US socialist left.

Today there is no Leninist party in the United States. There is no “embryo” or “nucleus” of such a party in our country (although some would-be Leninist groups would not agree with this, because they think they are that). The responsibility of all is to help create the preconditions for the crystallisation of a labour-radical subculture, a revolutionary class consciousness, a mass vanguard layer of the working class, an accumulation of experience and understanding, and cadres that will bring into being an organisation, a genuine party, that can help usher in what Eugene V. Debs once called “the third American revolution”. The coming together of a revolutionary workers’ party is not possible now – the effort to force that into being, whether through self-appointment of one or another small group or through some hot-house mergers of small groups, will be counter-productive.

For now, we must immerse ourselves in the struggles of our time, create united fronts of socialists and others, carry out serious education on what actually happened in struggles of the past, engage in the serious-minded discussion and debate necessary for continuing political clarification. Debate and united struggle can go together. In 1905, Lenin called for “a fighting unity” of socialist and revolutionary groups against the tsarist regime while urging Russian activists “not to spoil things by vainly trying to lump together heterogeneous elements. We shall inevitably have to . . . march separately, but we can . . . strike together more than once and particularly now.” Insisting that “in the interests of the revolution our ideal should by no means be that all parties, all trends and shades of opinion fuse in a revolutionary chaos”, Lenin emphasised that “only full clarity and definiteness in their mutual relations and in their attitude toward the revolutionary proletariat can ensure maximum success for the revolutionary movement” (“A Militant Agreement for the Uprising”, in Lenin, Revolution, Democracy, Socialism, pp. 177, 179-180).

The challenge of Occupy

As one who has been immersed in Occupy Pittsburgh from its inception, I am seeking to apply this orientation to the realities around me. Along with many others in this remarkable movement, I have been engaged in an intensive thinking, thinking, thinking process, finding the new experiences challenging and changing me in multiple ways. There is much that I still must process before drawing all of the conclusions that are inherent in the unfolding reality of Occupy. But there are several things I am certainly able to state for purposes of this discussion.

The statement of principles adopted by Occupy Pittsburgh in November 2011 (consistent with those adopted by Occupy Wall Street in New York) gives a sense of the nature of our struggle:

We recognize that this prevents genuine democracy and deprives us of our liberties, sacrifices our health, safety and well-being, threatens our relationship with the rest of the world, has destroyed and continues to destroy cultures and peoples throughout the world, and critically compromises the ecological systems that sustain life itself.

We are a nonviolent, decentralized movement working to create a just society.

We are claiming a space for public dialogue and the practice of direct democracy for the purpose of generating and implementing solutions accessible to everyone.

To this end, we are exercising our rights to assemble peacefully and to speak freely, thus demonstrating our commitment to the long work of transforming the structures that produce and sustain these injustices.

Also to that end, we are working against all forms of inequality and discrimination including those based on age, ability, diagnosis, size, religion or lack thereof, class, culture, immigration status, nationality, history of incarceration, housing status, race, color, ethnicity, indigenous status, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

We stand in solidarity with those who have come before us, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, who have fought for political, social and economic justice.

We are united, in strength and courage with the Occupations around the world. We are your next-door neighbors. We are your friends. We are your relatives. We are the 99%.

The Occupy movement, in its opposition of the 99% to the 1%, creates, in highly popularised form, a class analysis that is consistent with Marxism. The modern-day system of corporate rule and exploitation overseen by the wealthy 1% (and their servants in the upper fringe of the 99%) is what we mean by capitalism. The heart and soul, and great majority, of the 99% are the working class (blue collar, white collar, unemployed, etc.). The goal of establishing the democratic control of the 99% over our economic and political life is what we understand as socialism. This actually reflects radical traditions that run deep in the history of the United States.

It was, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr., who emphasised that the triple evils of racism, exploitation and war are interrelated and deeply rooted in the very nature of the US social-economic system, insisting that the “whole structure must be changed... American must be born again!” (See “Where Do We Go From Here”, in A Testament of Hope, pp. 250-251.) What the Occupy movement has done, and the way it has defined itself, has resonated powerfully among millions of people in the United States. We in the Occupy movement have a responsibility to be true to that, and to sustain and expand it to the best of our abilities. What we are about, as defined in the Occupy Pittsburgh statement, involves winning the overwhelming majority of the 99% in support of and struggle for the commitments and goals of replacing the power of the 1% with the power of the 99%.

Socialists involved in Occupy have a responsibility to explain how we see things – that this movement of and for the 99% is basically a working-class movement, and that its stated goal of waging a struggle for universal human rights, a central aspect of which is economic justice (the possibility of a decent life for each and every person), is – along with the notion of rule by the people over our economic and political life – what socialism is all about. More than this, our Occupy movement represents a life-giving revitalisation for the labor movement as a whole.

In the United States, the trade union movement has often been mistakenly identified as “the labour movement”, but it is only a defensive fragment of the labour movement. Once upon a time, the trade unions were built by radicals and revolutionaries – varieties of socialists and communists and anarchists and other labour radicals (some of whose voices can be found, for example, in the anthology Work and Struggle). They provided militancy, broad social vision and tough-minded democracy that gave life to the unions. They also built mass movements for social reforms (universal suffrage, an eight-hour workday, an end to child labour, for public education, women’s rights, opposition to racism, and more), and some of them laboured to build working-class political parties, although this had much less success in the US than in other countries. A full-fledged labour movement consists of all these elements.

Since the 1930s and 1940s, there has been a narrowing of the labour movement to the trade unions alone, accompanied by a marginalisation of the radicals and revolutionaries, and an accommodation with the corporations and the pro-capitalist state (and entanglement with the pro-capitalist Democratic Party). Over the years, the spirit has increasingly gone out of this fragmented labour movement, with hierarchy and bureaucracy crowding out rank-and-file democracy, and with workers feeling increasingly alienated from this fragment of a movement that claims to speak for them. Much of the current union leadership recognises that it is caught in a dead-end. Facing an extended onslaught from the big business corporations of capitalism, combined with economic downturn, it seems unlikely that the unions will be able to survive unless there is a change in the nature and orientation of the labour movement. More than anything the union leadership has been able to generate in recent decades, the Occupy movement has powerfully placed issues of economic justice in the national consciousness and mainstream political dialogue. It has tilted political reality in a way that opens up new possibilities and new, life-giving spirit for organised labour.

This helps to explain the unprecedented support by organised labour for the radicalism of the Occupy movement, and a strong trend within Occupy toward working together with unions and certain reform struggles (for health care, public transport, education, etc.), which helps to bring into being a larger, more diverse, multifaceted working-class movement. One of the strengths of Occupy Pittsburgh has been its commitment to a close working relationship with the unions and other elements of the broadly defined working class of the Pittsburgh area. This defines the primary responsibility of socialists in the Occupy movement: helping to build a sense of class consciousness and class struggle, helping to nurture an undercurrent of socialist consciousness, helping to advance the possibility of a mass socialist consciousness and mass socialist movement in the foreseeable future, connected with real struggles for economic justice through direct confrontation with the wealthy 1% of corporate capitalism.

We have been subjected to evictions of our Occupy encampments from the public spaces (Pittsburgh, one of the last, being finally dislodged several days before this writing), where we directly and vibrantly confronted the authority of the capitalist power structure. There are important challenges we face while seeking to reorient to the new situation.

One challenge is represented by two fractions among some of our anarchist brothers and sisters – some of whom want to build more or less utopian “communities” and activist “families” as alternatives to the status quo (apart from both the 1% and from the 99%), others inclined to break with the unions and mount masked minority confrontations against the 1%, independently of the 99%. In either case, the resulting isolation of Occupy activists, it seems clear, would be bound to marginalise our movement.

A very different challenge comes from powerful forces – particularly among our trade union allies – that will be pushing in this presidential election year to draw all activism into the camp of the pro-capitalist Democratic Party. “There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations in the entire world”, Trotsky noted as World War II was beginning to unfold. “It is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power.”

His analysis is worth lingering over: “They have to confront a centralized capitalist adversary, intimately bound up with state power... In the eyes of the bureaucracy of the trade union movement the chief task lies in ‘freeing’ the state from the embrace of capitalism, in weakening its dependence on trusts [the big business corporations], in pulling it over to their side” (Trotsky, “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay”, in Writings in Exile, p. 211). But the state in capitalist society is essentially an instrument for preserving the exploitative system of capitalism. Likewise, the presumed means for winning this capitalist instrument to “our side” – the Democratic Party – is absolutely committed to preserving the capitalist system. Given these realities, subordinating our struggle to a hoped-for Democratic Party victory is a highly dubious pathway for Occupy and the working class as a whole.

Such challenges are hardly new. Rosa Luxemburg noted the two dangers many years ago: “One is the loss of mass character; the other, the abandonment of its goal. One is the danger of sinking back to the condition of a sect; the other, the danger of becoming a movement of bourgeois [capitalist] social reform” (Luxemburg, “Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy”, in Socialism or Barbarism, p. 101).

This challenging moment is exactly the wrong time for socialists to channel their attention and energies into the project of merging into a multi-tendency socialist organisation. If all the members of all the socialist organisations in the United States were prepared to adhere to some ideal program and orientation free of “non-essentials” and sectarianism, and were able to do that quickly and efficiently, then such a notion could be considered reasonable. But to state the matter like that is to highlight its impossibility. On the other hand, I know from my experience that the kind of “fighting unity” Lenin spoke of – involving cooperation among members of different socialist groups, and united front type efforts – is something that is definitely possible and fruitful.

What we need to build with others, in this context, is an increasingly influential, dynamic, explicitly working-class current in the Occupy movement, a community-labour Occupy, which is both inclusive and politically independent. “The Occupy moment” may pass before the end of 2012. But for now socialists must remain committed to Occupy, and to helping draw its energies and activists into mass struggles of and for the working-class, around issues of transit, health care, education, housing, jobs, economic justice, environmental preservation, opposition to war, etc., at the same time doing what we can to build class consciousness and socialist consciousness.

In this context, and in the future struggles, socialists and their various organisations will have an opportunity to help create the pre-conditions a unified revolutionary party. This will involve the development struggles and a subculture that will help bring into being a class-conscious layer of the working class. It will also involve the accumulation and education and development of cadres, the organising experience and testing of political perspectives, the united front efforts and more that will create the possibilities for the creation of a mass revolutionary party of the working class. Many of us, currently in one or another organisation or in no organisation at the present, will be part of that.

Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky

In the face of new and challenging realities, it seems to me that it makes sense to share and make use of the ideas of Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and others associated with their revolutionary Marxist orientation. Their theorisations are based on a considerable amount of political experience accumulated by the global labour movement, buttressed by analyses coming from some of the finest minds associated with the revolutionary tradition. Given the persisting dynamics of global capitalism, the Marxism of Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and others from the early Communist movement continue to have considerable resonance for our own time. The Occupy movement, and the larger revitalised working-class movement that is struggling to come into being, can be helped enormously if revolutionary socialists engage in critically and creatively applying our perspectives to the realities around us, and within the next phase of Occupy and working-class struggles.

Works cited

Debs, Eugene V. Writings and Speeches of Eugene V. Debs, ed. by Joseph M. Bernstein. New York: Hermitage Press, 1948.

King, Martin Luther King, Jr. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. by James M. Washington. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1986.

Le Blanc, Paul. Work and Struggle: Voices From US Labor Radicalism. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. Revolution, Democracy, Socialism: Selected Writings, ed. by Paul Le Blanc. London: Pluto Press, 2008.

Luxemburg, Rosa. Socialism or Barbarism: Selected Writings, ed. by Paul Le Blanc and Helen C. Scott London: Pluto Press, 2010.

Trotsky, Leon. Writings in Exile, ed. by Kunal Chattopadhyay and Paul Le Blanc. London: Pluto Press, 2012.


I'm sorry but I think this

I'm sorry but I think this is the very worst thing I've read from Le Blanc primarily because it's rhetorical. After years of referencing theory and history he reverts to subjectivism and argues, "Some (for example Pham Binh in a recent contribution published in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal) have called for us all to merge together in a single revolutionary organisation, implying that this would make us more effective at this key moment. Based on my own experience, it seems obvious to me that this would be a serious mistake." He then goes on to not explain himself.

Binh does more than "imply" that effectiveness would be enriched through unity.Similarly if this would be a "a serious mistake" Le Blanc is not enlightening us although it apparently is "obvious" to him.

I'm seriously disappointed in this shallow perspective. I expected something much more rigorous from Le Blanc.

principled unity

To be fair, Paul did explain his view against an unprincipled merger of the radical left. Paul wrote: In 1905, Lenin called for “a fighting unity” of socialist and revolutionary groups against the tsarist regime while urging Russian activists “not to spoil things by vainly trying to lump together heterogeneous elements. We shall inevitably have to . . . march separately, but we can . . . strike together more than once and particularly now.” Insisting that “in the interests of the revolution our ideal should by no means be that all parties, all trends and shades of opinion fuse in a revolutionary chaos”, Lenin emphasised that “only full clarity and definiteness in their mutual relations and in their attitude toward the revolutionary proletariat can ensure maximum success for the revolutionary movement” (“A Militant Agreement for the Uprising”, in Lenin, Revolution, Democracy, Socialism, pp. 177, 179-180).

As to which existing revolutionary groups are best advancing that approach, not only in relation to the Occupy movement, but also in relation to fighting for class struggle politics in the unions, striving to build an independent labour party in the USA, defending revolutionary Cuba, building the anti-war movement, UNAC, etc., readers should investigate and make their own assessments -- and try to work together where possible.

the problem

The problem is that LeBlanc does not define what his idea of an "unprincipled" merger is (versus a versus "principled" one).

Please Explain


If you have seen all of the stuff that I've written, you certainly wouldn't say that this is the worst.

More seriously, I am sorry you feel what I wrote is shallow and disappointing, but I don't understand why you feel that way. Just because I don't understand doesn't mean that you're wrong about what you feel or think -- but what you say doesn't give us much to go on.

I would be happy to try to respond further, but aside from feeling that "imply" was a poor word choice (would could say Pham "asserts" or "argues" or "writes" or something else), what is it that you disagree with in what I wrote?

And what do you think should be the way socialists should function in the Occupy movement, and how do you feel a unified socialist organization can be brought about?


Passionate Interagreement--Comments From Marxmail

Comrades, although it may seem so, I see no real--essential--difference between what Paul or what Pham propose. Indeed, Mark's view (Mark Lause commentary in Marxmail) underscores this point and at the same time illustrates the problem.

My reading of LeBlanc's post is that while it is desirable and ultimately likely that a united revolutionary "current" of workers and the oppressed will emerge, trying to force the issue by attempting to get the variegated currents that roughly span the historical development of the pre- to 1st through 5th Internationals to come together is too big and too unimportant a task at the moment. Rather, it is important for serious revolutionaries--across all currents--to act and build within the best opening in the mass movement to have emerged in some time--within the Occupy movement and related events. In such a framework, "broadening and deepening" the impact of this opening will result in creating the material conditions for a true realignment and coalescing of the revolutionary workers and people's movements (sorry, Mark and others, I know the phrase "broadening and deepening" is imbued with much pain. I use it precisely to remind us of the best and the worst of our past).

In my view, Pham's call is consistent with Paul's analysis and adds an additional component. There is a need for previously experienced and emerging revolutionary cadres who simply cannot accept aligning themselves with the existing organized currents, all of whom have little allure for one reason or the other. They/we will serve as the "interstitial tissue" of perspective, theory, and connection with the masses necessary for the needed unity we all know must come. There are many of "us" who are independent, but not naively so, or emerging in consciousness--we understand the "warts" within each of the organizations and know that ultimately NONE of them will emerge as the true leadership of the working class. We also know that this "true leadership of the working class" will include many, most, or all of the cadres within all of these organizations . . .eventually. "We" understand that there are serious comrades within all of these organizations and as serious comrades, they/we will learn from the education we will all receive within each and every opening that comes along. And, if one of the organizations does emerge as a mass revolutionary leadership, then all of us will join and help it along. . .if we are indeed serious.

Paul is correct, we are not there yet and it is potentially wasteful and unrealistic to engage in a false and arbitrary "unity". Pham is correct, it is absolutely essential for US to work in concert, support and defend the revolutionary currents within the Occupy movement as well as across the world. In both cases, it is useless and counterproductive to adopt a "market economy" within the movement where we all sell our revolutionary wares and try to get our individual selves bigger rather than have the movement become bigger and more powerful. Those organizations that try this approach, just as in the past will deteriorate or capitulate to the bourgeoisie, those that do not will grow in influence. In the end, it does not matter which "perspective" wins; only that the working class achieves its liberation and asserts its historic role in taking us all out of capitalism.

I believe that this discussion is important and that comrades like Paul and Pham (and Mark and Louis and Jose and Bonnie, and Bear, and, most importantly all those new female, "brown", and young folks who will soon come along) reflect a mature and adult reply to the infantile left and to the class-collaborationist reformist mouthpieces for capital within and without the popular movements.

In that vein, I suggest that we all think strategically about each other's role as well as our perspectives and do more than simply "stay out of each other's way". After all, revolutionary Marxists are guided by the historic necessity of relying on the power and intellect of the masses in struggle. We believe that given the opportunity, the organized masses are the best arbiters of world history and the future of our world. To gain that power and intellect we must build a mass movement and help it to come to revolutionary conclusions--in however manner and whatever solutions such conclusions actually emerge.

If we can help that prospect along, we are worthy to be heard.

Thoughts on the discussion and support for socialist left unity

After reviewing some of the commentary on this post and as well as on Binh's recent reply to D'Amato and others, I would have to concur that there is a "problem" regarding how to get us all out of the morass preventing united socialist action within the emerging movements of our time and, most importantly, against the politics and dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It's a conundrum; without a revolutionary leadership the mass movements will continue to show promise but will not result in the required victories that will lead to working class power. And, the most conscious activists, workers, intellectuals--cadres--owing to our all too familiar history have continued to be unable (even when willing) to collaborate sufficiently enough to counter either the transitory anarchist/ultraleft currents in the U.S. (they really are transitory and unlikely to hold much sway in the long run) or the more dangerous currents of class-collaboration embodied by so many different let's say approaches--stalinism, social democracy, national bourgeois', trade union hackery, liberal bourgeois or just simple demoralization coming from continued oppression and no true answers coming forward.

I have Binh's and Louis' (Proyect) skepticism about the potential fruitlessness in trying to convince comrades with decades of training in the various left organizations and the resulting "education" in internecine wars among all these groups. One group's "principles" are another's "sectarianism", one's "revolutionary Marxist orientation" is another's bookish abstraction. To be frank, the differences that much of the generally "Trotskyist" left organizations seem to have with each other, while important (e.g., it's kinda important to believe or not believe that the Cuban state is defensible or not defensible or that China is or is not a workers' state), are conducted in the worst traditions of pseudo-science. In most scientific inquiry, differences in theories and observation are conducted and tested in robust debate and testing of theories and analysis of observed phenomena. Most important, such debates and inquiry are conducted in a commitment and spirit of intense, but ultimately collegial discourse; major differences are seen as a framework for greater collaboration and seeking of "proof" not as a reason for disengagement or myopic adherence to doctrine. What we too often see in this most crucial of sciences--the science of overturning social and economic oppression--is the application of "science" as an epithet; some's got it, others don't. This I believe is the problem that Binh seems almost desperately to raise. Objectively, none of our theoretical disagreements--that rightly should be be addressed together regardless--are a reason to prevent united, fractional if you will, intervention in the mass movement. After all, most of our most serious cadres throughout the world have come to very similar conclusions about very crucial issues. Here are some of the most important in my view:

1. opposition to lesser-evil or class-collaborationist politics--whether against the capitalist parties in the U.S. or against the politics of the class-collaborationist workers' leaderships in Europe or the host of national bourgeois leaderships seeking alliances with imperialism throughout the world [yes, there are debates on the nature of "anti-imperialism", but truly serious cadres are unlikely to support repression and tyranny even if they may question the nature of various governments and leaderships and are also unlikely to oppose truly "liberatory" policies of governments that may be questioned for their revolutionary nature].

2. Support for organized democratically-supported mass action directed toward mobilizing mass sentiment--concomitantly a commitment to advancing democratic rights at every opportunity

3. Support of true workers' and peoples democracy in organizations of the mass movement that seeks to tap the leadership potential of the organized masses through mass leadership decision-making (whether in rank and file union strike councils, mass general assemblies--soviets, if you will--or other emerging formations.
4. support for socialist economic and political solutions to the chronic capitalist-created economic and social crises based in never-ending wars and continued plunder.

In short, there is vastly more that we all have in common than the provable or disprovable theoretical or even economic disputes we may have and that such disputes would only really be resolved in the context of workers' power and an emerging socialist world.

At this point, I could say like Binh that not uniting is tantamount to class betrayal or like Louis to say not uniting is simply dishonest intellectually; we are all, after all, passionate about our commitments, so, we should not be surprised that our views will have impassioned conclusions. Rather, I think I will just say that the most serious among us are truly so much better than . . . This.

It's a matter of choices. We can continue with our current hypotheses that "one of us" or our theories will emerge "victorious" and vindicate whatever legacy of Trotskyism, Leninism, or Marxism we have steeled ourselves into believing through our attritional warmongering within the narrow confines of our pathetically small individual influences. Or, we can engage in the very personal characteristics we all share in common--the willingness to challenge the status quo of our personal experiences and adopt a socialist view of the world despite all evidence and social pressure that prevented us. We can decide to wade into uncertain waters of unknown depth with the knowledge that not only can we learn to swim, but that we can transcend and learn to create bridges to the undiscovered country that is the socialist future. We have a wealth of experience, knowledge, honed instincts, and, definitely, the ability to scrutinize each other's wayward turns. How 'bout we also learn to forge?

On the whole, creating a socialist left unity is really a very small step on the road to workers power. Doing so is a contribution to the workers movement that is likely greater in potential influence than its scope.

LeBlanc and Left Unity

I am also from Pittsburgh, a socialist and my group, CCDS, is involved with Occupy!, more in some cities than others. We're also seriously interested in left unity projects. And like LeBlanc, I think it rather unrealistic to form a multitendency party encompassing most of the left. My group defines itself as both 'Marxist' and 'pluralist,' and in a sense is already 'multitendency, and we already have a small number of 'dual members' with the CPUSA, DSA, FRSO, Solidarity and the SP. In some cases it's very helpful, in others not so much.

But I can think of a number of projects short of a common socialist party but beyond common work in the antiwar movements that would move all of us more towards the critical mass we all need to rise to the demands placed on us by this period.

--We could run socialist candidates in selected statewide districts where the GOP is strong and the Dems unlikely to win against them, ie, where their is no 'spoiler effect' due to our lack of a normal parliamentary system. Dan LaBotz did this in Ohio in 2010. I would be willing to urge a common 'left front' in a similar effort.

--For those of us among socialists for whom the 'lesser evil' is still a sound argument, we can work together to improve an independent PAC like Progressive Democrats of America, getting them a stronger base in the working class and minority communities--and help elect some of their well-known antiwar activists, like Norm Solomon, to Congress.

--We can all work together on left infrastructure projects, like our newly created 'Open University of the Left' Or we can build regional training and educational centers for the socialist left on the order of the Highlander Center in Tennessee, which had a huge impact on the upsurge in the South starting in the 1950s

--We can take a project like the Left Labor Project in New york City--where people who are staffers or militants of various unions, and who are also socialists, hold regular forums and help launch union-backed May Day marches. This could be replicated in a dozen cities if various left groups put their minds to it.

We'll have a panel on this and similar matters at the upcoming Left Forum in NYC this March. Stop by if you're interesting in seeing any of these suceed, or have others to suggest.

Organization, Occcupy, and the way forward.

I believe that the people should follow the model that worked so well in Venezuela and Bolivia, where the people simply refused to vote for any traditional party that had been in power and voted for any alternative.
Attempting to organize a brain washed public to accept a new party is bound to lead to failure due to a battle of ideologies. Since the awakened ones refuse to be organized into a hierarchical organization the way forward is best accomplished by voting for any alternative.
Ideally occupies would select a candidate to support in exchange for a promise that the candidate would only vote as directed by the general assembly; this would be real democracy in action.

Theory and Practice

A friend urged that I look at the comments following my article on Occupy and consider commenting. Reading through, I thought of Marx's eleventh thesis in his "Theses on Feurerbach" -- "philosophers interpret the world in different ways; the point, however, is to change it."

It is well worth discussing theory about what we should actually do in actual struggles in the real world -- but only if we then move forward to actually DO something about it. I was also reminded of the old SDS that both Carl Davidson and I belonged to in days of yore, particularly the names of competing currents -- the Action Faction and the Praxis Axis. My hope is that anyone involved in this discussion is working hard to implement and test out the ideas being put forward. I have disagreed with Carl Davidson plenty over the decades (including recently), but I very much like the practical-minded bent of his contribution.

Those who favor a multi-tendency socialist organization should consider joining one -- such as (in the U.S.) Solidarity or the Socialist Party or Committees of Correspondence. For reasons that I have already explained, the ISO makes more sense to me, especially because it does not see itself as "the Revolutionary Party" but instead sees itself as helping to create the preconditions for such a party. Regardless of what organization one is in, however, we should look for ways to work together in actual struggles and movements around those things that we agree on.

As we work together in actual struggles, building such movements as Occupy (at the same time testing out our different perspectives), we will be creating the preconditions for a mass socialist movement, and a mass vanguard layer of the working class, that will transcend some of the current debates and divisions -- in some cases being nourished by insights arising within those debates, in some cases going far beyond their frameworks and assumptions.

The point is to do the work to build struggles related to the needs of "the 99%" and to help develop skilled and educated activists, organizers, cadres who will be essential for sustaining the revolutionary organization(s) and mass movements capable of changing the world.


Socialism is not on the order of the day. Clearing away the shit (imperialism, neoliberalism) is. Socialists have no precise idea what the futures state will be like, nor how the economy will function in detail. Can't we just get together around a common minimal platform and leave those decisions of to the great day when radicals have achieved some real power. Also, why do we have to bring Lenin and his sterile debates with Kautsky into the discussion - the sooner both are forgotten the better - don't we have heads of our own. Let's get rid of the bahgahge.


My thinking was once somewhat similar when I was a new left activist in the 1960s, as an activists in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

I later concluded that those who don't understand history are condemned to repeat it. In fact, to a large extent, the historic tragedies of the "old left" were repeated as farcical replays by the young activists who had rejected all that old stuff.

I also concluded that it would be worthwhile to learn from the experiences and ideas of the past, and from such revolutionaries as Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky. Not to engage in pseudo-historical play-acting, but to make use of genuine insights and useful "suggestions" flowing from what they thought and did, applying them critically and creatively to our own somewhat different (but not entirely different) realities.


The world today is quite different than ever before - the state and the entire hegemonic structure is vastly more powerful, far more advanced in military and intelligence technology. And in (mis)information technology.

Other tactics and forms of organizing, new and innovative, uniquely different from those of the past, are called for. Also a fresh approach in our quest for popular support. The old concepts and language, eternally repeated, just won't hack it.

Certain concepts such as the the central role of the organized working-class are obsolete. It was never a majority even before deindustrialization. A revolution happened in Russia with a smaller worker class - a tiny fraction of the population - and not in industrially advanced Germany, because of the far greater weakness of the Russian state and the persistence of feudal structures there.

Nowadays far more significant population segments, depending on where you live, are the (lower) middle class and/or the economically marginalized.

The entrapment in the past language and concepts is a major weakness of Marxian Socialism (as opposed to Anarchism or pure and simple Left Radicalism). For potential supporters the jargon, the arcane debates, the irrelevancy to today's issues, are just plain turn-offs (one sniff and they're gone).

Of course theory and theoretical thinkers are necessary. But so also is a certain detachment from the classical socialist theory; in other words a zero-based theoretical restructuring that critically examines each classical concept incorporating only that which is correct and relevant today.


To add a few points to my earlier contribution:

* given their minuscule size it hardly matters what mistakes US socialists make. the German Linke, yes, they're big enough to make tactical mistakes.

* if Lenin, Trostsky, and Luxemburg had lived around now they'd have been dead in drone strikes.

* the state is now not only far more powerful but of international scope with a vastly repressive potential if it chooses to use it. minimal corollaries are that socialist organizing must be coordinated internationally and quite prepared for fierce repression. after all, the socialist goal is a complete redo of the world - it won't be a push over.

* wouldn't you agree that this is quite a qualitatively different perspective than in 1912.


Unfortunately LeBlanc chose not to engage with the key arguments I raised in my reply to "Another Socialist Left Is Possible: 1) that the status quo on the socialist left is unacceptable and 2) that "united fronts" that bring the different socialist groups together are necessary but not sufficient for this period. Instead, we get boilerplate assurances that someday, maybe, we'll have a common socialist organization and/or a revolutionary party of significant size and influence.

Unless we start doing something different today we are never going to get to that point down the road. Socialist groups that cling to their existing boundaries, methods, and practices will continually find themselves staring at the posteriors of those who are at the forefront experimenting, innovating, and ambitiously daring as they have with Occupy.

Don't Be Sad

Actually, I did engage with your arguments -- by disagreeing and offering what seems to me to be a better approach.

The key to left unity is to engage in the real struggles of today. For example, a number of us in Pittsburgh (from different groups and from no specific groups) are engaging in a united front effort to defend public transit, and some of us are engaged in related efforts to help the Occupy movement to be part of this and similar struggles. That is reflected here:

Out of such experiences as these, a genuine left unity can be forged, which can advance mass struggles and mass socialist consciousness that are among the essential preconditions for the crystallization of a substantial revolutionary socialist party.

failure to engage

I'm not the only one who sees that you did not engage with the points I raised or the tentative basis on which I argued some type of regroupment could realistically take place in today's context. Instead you chose to respond to things no one is arguing for -- namely, involving the red alphabet soup in programmatic discussions about "how we should define the very conception of socialism."

You say the ISO is dedicated to "helping to create the preconditions" for a revolutionary party. Those preconditions are already beginning to emerge. It's time we caught up and adjusted our practice accordingly.

Okay -- let's get to work

Okay, you feel I didn't respond to what you argued for, and I definitely feel that I did -- life is like that, sometimes.

The main thing now is for us to get to work to carry out our perspectives. Let's see what we can do, test out our perspectives, and see where we are once we go down the road a piece.

But especially, let's do all we can to build mass struggles and socialist consciousness.

Outline on Occupy

The general outline of Paul Le Blanc's statement at top is surely sufficient as purely an outline and orientation - and in this it is to be commended. To counterpoise this with generalised remarks that 'the socialist left in America is unacceptable' as Binh does, is simply vacuous and devoid of engagement with living differences between Occupy participants within the dynamically changing objective conditions. A United Front in commonality for defense purposes is essential and no-one should characterize and morph that into an ill-conceived popular front where differences in perspective or programme are blurred and discouraged.


I didn't make "generalized remarks," I made a concrete and specific argument about all of these issues here:

Where you get the idea that I don't know/understand the "living differences" within Occupy is beyond me since I've been reporting from OWS since mid-September:

And I continue to do so:

Quite a few people have contacted me expressing disappointment with Le Blanc's responses to the arguments raised in this debate. I guess there's a lot of vacuous people who are following the exchange.

a note to Pham Binh

I am not sure what the various words in quotes ("generalized remarks" and "living differences") actually are taken from -- but I know that I have not accused you of only making generalized remarks or of ignoring living differences regarding the Occupy movement. Nor have I accused you of being vacuous.

I am saddened, of course, to learn that "quite a few people" have expressed disappointment with what I have said in this debate. But I have said what I actually think, and have tried to do that without being insulting. I have no problem with your referring readers to other things you have written, but I think it is sometimes less than helpful to allow a snide and sniping tone to get the upper hand in what you say.

The key, of course, is what we do -- and how the kinds of things that we say in such debates are connected to what we are actually doing in the struggle. To the extent that we are both seriously engaged in the Occupy movement and also the socialist movement, and doing what we can to strengthen their efforts and impact, that is a good thing.

I didn't imply that you made

I didn't imply that you made any of those accusations -- I was replying to someone else's comment.

I'm sure there an equal number of people who are disappointed with the content of my remarks as well as their tone, but I am not someone who will respond with a patience, a friendly smile, and a comradely when people (not you) start throwing insults around that have zero political content (even being labelled an opportunist, centrist, counter-revolutionary would be better than "vacuous").

If you think my "snide and sniping tone" is terrible I can't imagine what you think of Lenin's tone when he discussed Trotsky and other Mensheviks prior to 1917 or Kautsky after 1914.

we are who we are

You weren't trashing me? Good!

Regarding tone, we are not Lenin or Trotsky in 1912 or 1917 -- we are who we are, in a very different place, in 2012.

Certainly in our context, I think a tone designed to clarify and even build bridges (especially for advocates of unity) is better than that of negative put-down. This can be done while still being critical and even blunt.

Of course, we each have to find our own way on this.

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