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The Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State
Part 2 Ben Seattle October 12, 2002

The real reason for
the stink about the state

"I was once a Leninist like Ben, but was convinced through arguments conducted on the Anarcho-Marxist list, that the state is not simply the means by which one class maintains its rule over another, but specifically that it is the means by which a minority class maintains its rule over a majority class. I believe that the consequences of this question affect the entire character of the left."
-- Daniel (from his introduction to this debate)

My second question for Daniel

Why should it be true that the state must necessarily be the rule of the minority over the majority? I participated in the discussion on the Anarcho-Marxist list. I saw no solid arguments that the state can only be the means by which a minority maintains its rule over a majority. If such arguments exist--then what the heck are they? That is my second question for Daniel.

The most powerful arguments that I have seen that the state, by its nature, must always represent the rule of a minority over a majority--are based on what is called induction. If we say that the sun will come up tomorrow because that is what it did yesterday and the day before--this is an argument by induction. Induction is a valuable method and we use it all the time in ordinary practical life (ie: "my bus will probably be late this morning because it is usually late"). But if we rely only on induction then we can never expect to see anything new in the world. The many arguments that man would never be able to fly were based on induction. And the many arguments that bourgeois rule will last forever are based on induction.

The history of previous attempts
to create a workers' state

The historical experience of Lenin's 1917 revolution is likely the primary factor for pessimism in the left about whether the state can be used by a majority (the working class and the oppressed masses) to suppress a minority (the former bourgeoisie and the forces of capital). The state created by Lenin ended up being a instrument used by a minority (people in the ruling party) for the permanent suppression of the majority (the working class).

How did this happen? What Lenin created was not the dictatorship of the working class--but the dictatorship of a small group that hoped that conditions would improve enough to make possible the dictatorship of the working class (ie: something that would require full democratic rights for workers--which in the conditions of the 1920's would have led to a restoration of ordinary bourgeois-landlord rule). But by the time that conditions had improved Lenin had died and the small ruling group had degenerated and committed too many crimes to allow the working class to have the democratic rights necessary for the dictatorship of the working class to become a reality instead of a fiction. And the monstronsity that resulted from all this called itself a "workers' state" and became the model for other states (such as China) where popular revolutions overthrew previously existing colonial or landlord rule.

It is this historical experience (and the conclusions drawn from it) that has created so much pessimism about whether a state machine can really be made to serve the interests of the majority of society.

Anarchism has emerged as political trend with great appeal to the most militant and serious section of the left that is righteously disgusted with reformism [-4-]. But reformism as a political trend which dominates the progressive movement can never be defeated until we recognize that our goal must be a state machine controlled by the working class. And this would be a very different kind of machine than that which serves the bourgeoisie.

A transparent machine

The conclusion that the majority of society will never be able to make use of a state machine to defend its interests--is nothing but a formula for us being naked, defenseless and on our knees in the presence of our enemies.

The answer to the pessimism lies in grasping that conditions of a modern society like that existing in the U.S. (with a working class majority, a functioning economy and a developing digital communications infrastructure) will make possible something that has never before existed: a transparent machine that can only be used in one way--that will be used by workers to defend their interests against the forces of capital--but cannot be used to suppress the working class.

Such a machine will be based on the principle of "the separation of speech and property" (see "Who controls the mass media?" in part 1) under which the voice of capital will be cut down to size and drowned out--but it will be impossible to silence the voices of the masses.

The proletarian democracy list [-5-] is devoted to understanding the functioning of this machine and how it will be used by the working class and the masses to create a peaceful and abundant world.

The universal sectarian answer
to all difficult questions

"I always knew there was something wrong with the organisation I had been in, but could never find anything wrong with their theory, so I always assumed it was a problem with the personalities I was dealing with. Now, I believe it is leninist theory which leads to these problems in organization, and I have yet to encounter an intelligent defense of Leninist ideas, as opposed to outcries rooted in a love of orthodoxy and organizational ritual."
-- Daniel (ibid)

I do not know, Daniel, what organization you were in but it is safe to assume that it was infected with one (or both) of the diseases which saturate the left: sectarianism and reformism. I will not address the reformist disease here. Rather I will talk about sectarianism and how sectarianism makes it impossible to talk about (or think about) theory in an intelligent way.

Sectarianism involves putting the interests of an organization above the interests of the revolutionary movement as a whole. Sectarianism distorts theory because such groups are based on (and recruit activists on the basis of) a core set of theoretical ideas (a set of tribal totems and taboos) that distinguish the group from other groups with which it is competition for the warm bodies of activists needed to maintain the group's existence (and the existence of the central staff that does the thinking for the group). Hence, any challenge to the group's core ideas represents a threat to the stability and continued existence of the group itself--which is held together with a kind of "sectarian glue" that allows its members to have a false confidence that the group is on the right track and is taking up those revolutionary tasks that are decisive.

In these conditions intelligent discussion or defense of the ideas of Lenin (or any other principles which are vital to the development of a mass movement aimed at the overthrow of bourgeois rule) will be extremely rare. Instead we have the phenomena that the more important the question that is being discussed--the higher the level of bullshit that will come up to block intelligent discussion. The operating principle is that, in response to difficulties, the solution is to stick one's head firmly into one's asshole. In this way the difficulties are no longer visible and, presummably, no longer exist. (Question: Don't these people get uncomfortable with their heads shoved into such a tight space? Answer: Actually not. They are quite used to it. In fact at this point the only thing that would make them uncomfortable--would be sunlight.) Our sectarian organizations have a common answer to all of the difficult questions. If you boil away the bullshit this answer reduces itself to the universal sectarian answer to all difficult questions:

"Don't think about that question.
Instead--join our group and
we will do your thinking for you."

The overwhelming majority (if not all) of the organizations which consider themsleves to be "Leninist" are actually based on a theoretical foundation which is religious in nature. I have used the term cargo cult Leninism to describe this religion [-6-]. A cargo cult is the kind of religion that is created when a primitive people encounter a superior technology that is beyond their ability to understand. Cargo cults were created in the South Pacific when native peoples encountered Western technology and its magical "cargo" in the period before the Second World War. Some cargo cults still exist and the followers of this religion can still be found wearing "radio headsets" made out of coconut shells and repeating the mystical phrase "Roger, Over and Out" into a "microphone" woven out of bamboo. (And no, I am not making this up--see the link [-7-])

The good news is that "cargo cult Leninism" is doomed. As serious activists confront the theoretical questions that are decisive and discuss (courtesy of the emerging revolution in digital communications) these basic principles with one another--it will become clear both that (a) the cargo cult Leninists are totally incapable of defending their views (or even coming up with intelligent replies to the most simple questions), and (b) that cargo cult Leninism has nothing to do with the real thought, practice or living spirit of Lenin.

Popularity of anarchism is
the inevitable result of
the theoretical bankruptcy
of "Marxist" and "Leninist" groups

Daniel's comments stand as one more proof that it is the utter bankruptcy of "marxist" and "leninist" grouplets which is driving tens of thousands of the best and most militant activists to the conclusion that their revolutionary energy should be invested (ie: in many cases, squandered) in a dead-end anarchist swamp.

I do not want to imply by this that all revolutionary energy invested in anarchism will be wasted. This is obviously not true as shown by many of the powerful spirited mass actions for which the core organizers considered themselves anarchists. The anti-globalization movement and the huge mass actions against the WTO and the World Bank, for example, were of a militant mass character in part because of the anarchist convictions of hundreds and thousands of the core organizers. Nor, for that matter, is it true that all revolutionary energy invested in sectarian "marxist" organizations (ie: based on religion instead of scientific theory) is wasted either. Many of these groups conduct large amounts of useful revolutionary work in spite of a theoretical basis that is essentially religious in nature.

My attitude toward all militant activists, whether anarchist-minded or marxist-minded is the same: we are comrades. Our duty is to learn methods of principled cooperation to solve the existing theoretical problems in a decisive way and lay the foundation for the revival of a healthy left. And this requires that no one and no idea can remain unchallenged.

Cleaning up "marxism"

I think that all serious activists can understand that becoming involved with an orientation or organization that is clueless on fundamental problems or the fundamental way forward will greatly increase the amount of demoralization and passivity that results. The revolutionary movement can and will do better than this. New kinds of organizations will eventually be created. These organizations will make use of the emerging revolution in digital communications and will be based on the principle of transparency. Bullshit of any kind that clogs up or threatens to corrupt these organizations will be exposed and ridiculed. There will be many who will not like this. But it is the fundamental way forward.

The work of spirited anarchists in building a militant anti-globalization movement will only be the beginning of their contribution. One of the most important positive results of the gravitation of so many young militant activists towad anarchism--is that this will eventually become a powerful factor to help cleanse everything that is putrid, rotten, disgusting, suffocating and pathetic from the movement which calls itself "marxist". And this will eventually lead to the revival of a mass movement for the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

Tomorrow:

A scenario for the overthrow of bourgeois rule
in the U.S. in the middle of the 21st century

Notes for part 2

[-4-] Reformism Reformism is a political trend that restricts itself to those goals and methods that are realistic. What is realistic is defined as what is acceptable to the bourgeoisie. What is acceptable to the bourgeoisie are goals and methods that are responsible. What is responsible turns out to be what is respectable. And what is respectable turns out to be what is ineffective in mobilizing the masses or raising their consciousness.

Reformism is the dominant political trend and ideology within the progressive movement. The term "reformism" comes from the core belief that the bourgeois control of society can be eliminated via a gradual series of reforms that can avoid awakening the violent resistance of the bourgeoisie in the form of brutal force against the masses (something which historical experience shows is extremely unlikely).

The term "reformism" is itself somewhat misleading since many activists wrongly equate it with the struggle for reforms. On the contrary, both reformists and revolutionaries struggle for reforms. The distinction is that revolutionaries struggle for reforms using revolutionary methods that revolve around mass action and link the struggle for these reforms to revolutionary goals (ie: raising the consciousness of the masses and building revolutionary organization). Historical experience shows that revolutionary tactics are far more successful in the struggle for reforms than reformist tactics.

Revolutionary tactics are centered around raising the consciousness of the masses and giving the masses confidence in the power of mass action. This includes helping the masses gain experience in successful struggles and helping the masses understand the class nature of the struggles they are waging, who their true friends and enemies are, and that the ultimate goal of the class struggle must be the overthrow of the system of bourgeois rule.

Reformist methods treat mass action as secondary or ignore it altogether and often aim for compromises in which illusions in the supposed reasonableness, generosity and enlightment of the bourgeoisie are reinforced.

In the anti-war movement the reformist straightjacket often involves preaching reliance on "saviors" within the establishment and appeals to the enlightened consciences of the powerful that amount to begging for peace. Reformist methods carefully avoid politics which stress the class basis of the war and which rely on the masses (such politics will supposedly frighten away the saviors within the establishment who would not want to be embarassed by association with anything radical--but actually the opposite is true: as the anti-war movement becomes independent of bourgeois influence--the bourgeoisie instruct these firefighters to pretend to be radical in order to tame the movement, prevent further radicalization and restore bourgeois influence).

Reformism restricts our consciousness and vision to the struggle for those reforms which are acceptable to the bourgeoisie--which do not challenge bourgeois rule--which are compatible with a state machine controlled by the bourgeoisie. (For example the principle of "separation of speech and property" described above is probably not achievable under bourgeois rule because it would undermine the ability of the bourgeoisie to control the political ideas and thinking of the masses.)

[-5-] Proletarian Democracy elist The Proletarian Democracy elist is the only elist in the world that is focused on a single topic:

How will economics, politics and culture work
when the working class runs modern society?

To join the Proletarian Democracy elist send email to: proldem-open-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

More about this is at: http://struggle.net/proletarian-democracy/open.htm and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/proldem-open

[-6-] Cargo Cult Leninism Below is a section of my essay at: http://struggle.net/proletarian-democracy/related.htm#cargocult

A cargo cult Leninist is anyone who gives prominent attention to the goal of workers' rule but who fails to deal with the ideological debris created as a result of the degeneration of the attempts to create workers' rule in the Soviet Union and China. Specifically, cargo cult Leninists are those who mouth phrases about workers' rule without explaining how a workers' state would suppress the former (and aspiring new) bourgeoisie without also suppressing the independent political life of the working class and, in particular, without suppressing the right of workers to:

1. create independent political organizations
(without requiring the permission of anybody), and

2. fight to influence the consciousness of the masses
and mobilize mass support for criticisms of incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption within _any_ sphere of society--including the ruling circles

Put simply, any serious talk of proletarian dictatorship without such basic clarity on the nature of proletarian democracy is a sham, a travesty, idiocy and denial by well-meaning but clueless cargo cultists who have completely lost touch with the thinking of ordinary people who conceive of workers' rule as a police state based on thought control.

[-7-] A real cargo cult on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific: http://enzo.gen.nz/jonfrum
or check out Richard Feynman's famous talk on cargo cult science <>