Thursday, October 29, 2009

What can we Learn from Lenin

I thought Don Hammerquist's Lenin, Leninism, and some leftovers was a very thoughtful article and enjoyed the response by Wetzel as well.

Some of the questions that are brought up, I believe do not yet have satisfactory answers in our movement. Particularly the methods that should be used in relation the trade unions in terms of being most effective in promoting libertarian struggle, and also in dealing with un-eveness in the development of the class. How to organise in light of these features needs serious investigation both theoretically and in terms of practical activity. Indeed, I think many of them can't be "solved" without essentially trying different approaches and seeing which are least problematic.

Such attempts however should be made consciously and in a coordinated manner. And reviewed periodically to assess how positive the gains are made and published in such a way that we can share our experiences and replicate what appears to be working. This is particularly difficult because of the great deal of difference that can be created by different social contexts. It seems that it would be most useful in someplace like the US which has some level of homogeneity.

I'm not sure what the particular fascination with Lenin is that compels someone to attempt to reclaim the legacy. Indeed, it seems to me that Lenin was such a polemical writer and strategically minded towards a "success" that he often just wrote whatever he thought would be most advantageous to the Bolsheviks at any given time. Often this means incorporating anarchist and syndicalist slogans without really incorporating their content in any meaningful way. This can allow a "libertarian" version of Lenin to be created by carefully chosen selective blindness. A Lenin which I don't believe ever really existed.

I do however agree that anarchists often make oversimplified caricatures of the Bolsheviks. This is a serious failing since comrades who are very knowledgeable of the time period will not be convinced by such ahistoric simplifications. The time period was complex, and while Leninist directions had permanent repercussions with negative results, its important that we look at it in more than a strictly idealist "negative" sense.

When confronted with the need to increase production rapidly in order to keep the delicate alliance of peasants and proletariat what should we do. When confronted with trade unions that are characterised by a historically professional character, how should we deal with them? Do we support the soviets or the factory councils? How do we reconcile the potentially conflictual power struggle between them without losing a section of the professional class which can not easily be replaced?

Obviously we need not concern ourselves in too much detail with a social context so removed from our own. But we can look at this history to see how in fact we need to be more strategically minded in relation to the method of struggle that we actually support in our own context without oversimplifying the complex character of the social landscape in which we are going to be fighting.

Hammerquist does seem to get confused by differences in language. In particular this quote:

I recently read a report by an Irish class struggle social anarchist about a tour he took around the U.S. and his impressions of the anarchist movement overall and in specific localities. One point that I noted with more than a little consternation was that he treated “insurrectionist anarchism” as little more than the anti-working class anarchist primitivism of the Eugene variant. It does seem that class struggle social anarchists tend to discount the politics of insurrection, ceding the issue to various “post-left” elements, including the “crazies” among the life style anarchists, where it becomes little more than an element of generational extremism, a theatrical pose that will evaporate in the face of any real repression, if not at the mere possibility of repression such as followed after 9/11.

This seems to merely be a misunderstanding of Insurrectionist. It seems to me that the vast majority of Social Anarchists that I've talked to fully believe in the necessity of some level of insurrectionary force. It's quite difficult to imagine scenarios in which this doesn't occur. The problem is strictly that "insurrection" is not a stand in for politics and political organising. Insurrection is merely a tactic that should only be used to facilitate libertarian struggle and is worthless if it isn't doing this. In some contexts it may do this, in others it may do exactly the opposite.

This is something that is particularly important in the Irish context where we have a history of Republicanism. We can see the IRA at various points as an insurrectionary force in search of a political ideology. Here it is important to point out the need to put the horse before the cart.

I'm sure Hammerquist would agree, but failed to understand what was being argued against.

(I have some experiences with all of the above, none particularly successful, but have always favored yet another option: organize a direct action mass grouping of workers at the point of production that can begin to understand the relevance of class issues beyond their particular shop floor--whatever the nature of the union or whether or not there is one. This approach has it problems as well, but they are a matter for a different discussion.)

I'd love to hear more about these experiences. The major problem (in my estimation) with current theory among anarchists is a lack of studies of actual attempts to use various strategies in relation to the unions.

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