Sectarianism on the Left

(Another post in the wake of my post, “I got purged” from a far left grouplet.)

Peter Camejo nails it, describing how the absolutist views of Marxist vanguard parties (coupled with their imitation of who they think Lenin was) virtually guarantees such parties will be highly sectarian and doomed to being on the fringe.

The appearance of the “correct program”, “we are a Leninist Party” ideology has tended to always require a “leftist” view of reality and prognostications that cataclysmic events will soon catapult the sect into importance. This phenomenon is also to be found in all cults.

The “leftist” side is necessary because the sect members have to be more radical than any living movement. The attraction of association with a living process has to be broken to maintain the sect. This requires forever knocking any positive development in social movements. Analyses have to be made continuously showing the failings of all movements and their inevitable collapse and failure.

Much of the endless sectarianism on the left is due to precisely that, the insistence by the sect that only their view is the correct one. To allow other views to be accepted within the group would lead to the breakdown of their groupthink. Hence, vitriolic criticism of the perceived failings of any other group or movement has to be near constant.

But there are more productive and effective ways to work towards social justice.

Imitating others is a dead end, but one can learn from almost any experiences, especially successful ones. For a period, large numbers set out to imitate the Cubans in Latin America. This was a mistake. So were the attempts to imitate the Russians after 1917. People who can think for themselves have the best chance of success.

For more on Camejo, his history, and on sectarianism and regroupment, read Dave Riley’s comment to our previouas post on this topic. Dave has a wealth of information and insight to share and blogs at LeftCast (among other sites.)


  1. I guess that Bob is aware of my thoughts on this topic, which have led to frequent exchanges with the DSP in Australia over my rejection of “vanguard” party concepts. I worked closely with Camejo in the early 1980s to bring some of these ideas into fruition, but nowadays am content to write about them and other topics on the Internet. The relevant material can be read here:

  2. Louis moderates Marxmail and blogs at the Unrepentant Marxist


    The Marxism list is a worldwide moderated forum for activists and scholars in the Marxist tradition who favor a non-sectarian and non-dogmatic approach. It puts a premium on independent thought and rigorous but civil debate.

    Another excellent Left listserv is Doug Henwood’s LBO-Talk

    lbo-talk is an email-based mailing list for disucssing politics, economics, and culture, all expansively defined, sponsored by this newsletter.

    Despite that sponsorship, I hope this list will be a forum for speaking across intellectual and social boundaries that have divided the left, such as it is, for too long. Among these oppositions I’d like to see worked through are ones like class/identity, cultural politics/”real” politics, Marxism/postmodernism, universal/particularist, activism/theory, economics/culture, nature/labor; nature/culture, and labor/culture

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