Marxist groups, organizing, and clowning

(This is the first of a series of posts in the wake of my post, “I got purged” from a far left grouplet.)

Among the socialist Left exists a multitude of little Marxist groups and parties. Too often, they secretly (or even not so secretly) believe they have the “correct program.” Thus, they see their task as convincing everyone else of the errors of their ways and then recruiting them into their faction.

Such groups are, of course, most often vexed by the little Marxist grouplet next to them whose program deviates ever so microscopically from theirs. Too often the result is lunatic infighting and splinter groups breaking away from other splinter groups.

The problem is not only are their parties microscopic in size, they also only recruit from those already on the hard left, and not from the masses at large. Thus they aren’t representative of the working class nor are they leading it, even though they claim to be.

Lenin, who they frequently quote (if not worship), recruited and attracted people from all levels and segments of the populace. Tens of thousands were members. His party, at least in the beginning, had competing newspapers (and thus apparently felt no need to have a “correct program.”)

The idea that a group of a few hundred people who are not in the leadership of any mass movement, much less integrally involved in leading the working class as a social force, can be referred to as a Leninist party and having a “correct program” would never have crossed Lenin’s mind. In 1918 Lenin would refer to such an idea as clowning.

By the 1940s, however, within the Trotskyist movement a conception had taken root that no matter how small or disconnected from the workers movement a group might be, if it had the “correct” program and a cadre, it was a Leninist Party and would eventually “win”.

This was the “proven” Leninist way. What the Trotskyist movement did as a whole was drop the direct involvement with the living mass movement as a prerequisite for the development of a party. Thus “program” was separated from its social roots.

Thus, they aren’t even trying to build a mass party, but rather assume the rightness of their ideas will somehow, someday, win them mass followers who will then rise up and smash capitalism with a mighty blow (with them in charge, of course.)

Lenin’s argument was that the discipline and unity required of a party that can lead a revolution is only built up politically through the class consciousness of the vanguard of the working class, its ability to link up with the broadest masses and ability to exercise political leadership over the masses. He said: “Without these conditions all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and end up in phrase-mongering and clowning.”

The ability to “link up with the broadest masses” is precisely what many such parties are incapable of doing. Often because they have no clue how to do so. Nor do they want to. Organizing on a mass level means there will be factions and disagreements within the group (this is a healthy thing and quite normal.) But groups that believe in their own inerrancy and “correct program” can’t allow competing ideas. So they, by dint of their own self-limiting agenda, can never become large and thus doom themselves to remain tiny as well as irrelevant to the working class at large that they pretend to represent.