Date:    Mon, 16 Jun 1997 20:20:01 -0700
To:      marxism-international@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
From:    Ben Seattle 
Subject: M-I: (POF-6) The Ideological Roots of Opportunism

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                           Chapter 6

               The Ideological Roots of Opportunism
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   "Lenin ... for the first time in the history of Marxist thought,
    laid bare the ideological roots of opportunism, showing that
    they primarily consisted in worshipping the spontaneous
    working-class movement and belittling the role of Socialist
    consciousness in the working-class movement ...
    [Lenin] brought out the great importance of theory,
    of consciousness, and of the party as a revolutionizing and
    guiding force of the spontaneous working-class movement ..."
          -- "History of the CPSU(B)" on "What Is To Be Done?"

Matter spontaneously tends to develop in the direction of consciousness.
Consciousness, in turn, reacts back on matter, and greatly accelerates this
transformation.  This, in a nutshell, encapsulates the history of the
universe.  And this also, in concentrated form, is the basis of the theory
of communist organization.

Matter and consciousness

Consciousness has the unique property of being the only vehicle by which
the future can effect the present.  Consciousness is embodied in extremely
complex matter in which information from the material world is collected,
concentrated and refined into ideas or principles.

These ideas, or principles, in turn, seek to reproduce, or copy themselves,
and are transmitted and amplified, in a series of stages, in
ever-increasing zones of influence to guide the large-scale transformation
of matter.

Nature everywhere operates in parallel and all the contradictions in nature
can be seen as striving to interact with one another.  These two tendencies:

1) The independent development of a great many component parts
   (or what I like to call "parallelity")
2) The mutual interaction of the seperate components
   (sometimes called "interdependent development"--one aspect of
   the operation of the principle of "information wants to be free")

are present in all complex adaptive systems--and reach their most complete
expression in the development of consciousness (which alone can reflect the
contradictions of nature in a more concentrated form than exists in nature
itself--and thus can assist in the free interaction of all contradictions).

These two tendencies are present in the human mind and they will be present
in the forms of communist organization that conform to the needs of
development in the modern world.  For example, the working class, as it
strives to increasingly coordinate its actions--to defend its interests
against the bourgeoisie--will seek out and find methods of collecting,
concentrating and refining information--in ways such that all the reflected
contradictions (ie: ideas, principles) can freely interact with one
another--without the need for a single directing center (more on this
later) which coordinates everything.

An idea (or principle) exists in combination and competition with many
ideas in a human mind.  The mind can act as a zone in which the various
ideas contend for hegemony--and some are amplified and emerge as dominant.
Similarly, a principle (backed by personalities) may contend for hegemony
within an organization (such as a revolutionary political party) or (backed
by organizations which represent opposing classes) contend for hegemony in
society as a whole.  Each zone of influence represents a stage or arena in
which the two tendencies above (ie: [1] independent development or
"parallelity" and [2] mutual interaction) express themselves--and in which
consciousness flows back to matter.

Hence, the theory of communist organization is most fundamentally based on
the relationship between matter and consciousness--the relationship between
the objective and the subjective--in which elements of the material world
are reflected and refined in consciousness--and in which consciousness is
in turn transmitted and amplified, in a series of stages, to effect the
large scale transformation of matter.

This relationship has, from a theoretical perspective, been badly mangled
and mutilated over the years.  These issues will come up again as questions
of communist organization are sorted out in the age of the internet--the
age of the principle that "information wants to be free"--and the general
development of the practice of all political trends engaging in active and
aggressive "information war" to secure the "capture of consciousness" by
one or another set of principles.

The issues of centralization vs. "bottom-up" self-organization and
distributed intelligence, the issues of unity of will/purpose and
inner-party democracy--will come up again and again as activists hammer at
these fundamental themes.

I would like to briefly survey a few of these issues.  I hope I do not fuck
things up too badly.

First issue: Centralism

Probably the key issue related to communist organization concerns
centralism.  Largely because of the emergency decision in 1921 to prohibit
factions within the party (which we will discuss in a following section)
and how this was used by Stalin, starting in 1924, to justify a permanent
state of "monolithism"--many "communist" organizations today use
"centralism" (or even "democratic centralism") as an excuse to shut down
all criticism or internal discussion of their bankrupt, opportunist (or
sometimes, merely wrong) views or practices.

And in fact, the term "Leninist party" is often used as being synonymous
with a highly centralized party, with a single supreme leading center, and
with no open opposition nor groups within the party organized on the basis
of one or another set of views.  But communist parties and organizations in
the future are likely to be very different than this.  Communist parties
and organizations in the future will encompass a large number of internal
groups which will self-organize on the basis of common viewpoints.  Nothing
is more easy, natural and necessary than that comrades in a communist
organization should associate with one another and undertake common work on
the basis of shared perspectives.  Also, nothing is more easy, natural and
necessary than that such views should have occasion to collide and contend
with one another and engage in various forms of struggle with the aim of
sorting out correct from incorrect ideas.  Such developments will be made
*inevitable* by the communications revolution.

Does this mean that Lenin was wrong, or that his views are outdated ?

I think it means that Lenin's views have been distorted--and that it is the
distortions that are wrong.

If we examine how Lenin used the word "centralism" we will find that he
never talks of the need for centralism as a thing-in-itself.  Instead he
discusses the *concrete*, specific ways that a centralist organization will
serve the workers--in comparison to the *alternatives* that were *possible
at the time*.  We can do the same thing.  Because today, there are
circumstances and situations in which centralism is *useful and
necessary*--as well as circumstances and situations in which centralism
would be *awkward, stupid and a step backward*.

Centralism is often thought of a means used for the party to coordinate its
actions so that it can strike against the bourgeosie, so to speak, with its
fingers united in a single fist.  And this is one feature of centralism.
But what is often missed here--is that Lenin advocated centralism as a
means of *increasing* democracy within the party.  We will discuss this in
the next chapter.

Second issue: Spontaneity and self-organization

Lenin also discussed "spontaneity" and "bottom-up" organization (words
strongly related to the concept of "self-organization") in ways that could
(when quoted out of context by those who make a fetish of centralism)
create confusion or be misleading today--in the period of the internet and
the communications revolution--when these concepts will increasingly occupy
*center stage* in the attention of communist activists, progressive people
and, eventually, the entire working class.

However, an examination of Lenin's work will show that he was directing his
fire--not at the power of these concepts or their usefulness to the working
class--but at those who were misusing these concepts to promote reformism
and to oppose building a working class party.  The analogy here is to the
way that words such as "freedom" and "democracy" are often used to defend
or apologize for bourgeois conceptions, practices and ideology.  It is the
rule of the working class (leading to communist society) that will usher in
an expansion of freedom and democracy such as would be unthinkable under
capitalist rule.

6a. Why did Lenin oppose
    "worship of spontaneity" ?

The ideological roots of opportunism can be summed up in two words:

	"do nothing".

Of course, opportunism never expresses itself in such a naked way.  Usually
there are all kinds of fancy words, philosophical conceptions and tactics
enough to keep an army of activists very busy.

Lenin, of course, did not use the phrase "do nothing" to describe the
ideological root of opportunism.  He did however concentrate it into two
other words which (more or less) mean the same thing:

	"worship spontaneity".

Of course opportunism rarely expresses itself with such striking clarity.
This would tend to defeat its purpose.

But a concept such as this can be dressed up a bit and look much better.
Revolutionary activists, in Lenin's time, were therefore advised to focus
their energy on the form of struggle "that is at all possible for the
workers under present conditions".  And what is it that is possible ?  What
is possible "is determined by the interaction of the material elements and
the material environment".  And the form of struggle that is determined by
the interaction of the material elements and the material environment--is
that form of struggle that the workers "are actually conducting at the
present time".

Doesn't that sound much better ?

But, Lenin noted, the struggle of the workers at that time in Russia
(without the intervention of a Marxist organization) would spontaneously
(ie: by itself, as a result of the interaction of the material environment
and all the existing material elements) fall under the domination of
bourgeois ideology and bourgeois tactics and inevitably be transformed into
something fundamentally harmless to bourgeois interests.

This was because bourgeois ideology was more developed and had far more
numerous opportunities to be spread, and also because of the pressure
originating with the liberal bourgeoisie itself, which manifested itself in
a great many ways.  Lenin noted that the workers' movement also had a
spontaneous tendency to strive for independence of bourgeois ideology--but
that the spontaneous tendency in the other direction was, in most
circumstances, stronger.

Hence the task of the Marxists in Russia was to *divert* the working class
movement from its "normal" spontaneous tendency to become subordinate to
bourgeois ideology and leadership.  Lenin argued that the Marxists must
therefore strive to create an organization with the ability to stand up to
the pressure of bourgeois ideology and *intervene* in the workers' movement
in such a way that the movement could also resist this pressure.

It is useful to look into how this "do nothing" philosophy expresses
itself--because it is just as alive and powerful today, in our present
world, as it was in Lenin's time.

The worship of spontaneity assumes many forms--some of which may look very
similar to the conclusions provided by both materialism and by common sense. 

The term "spontaneous development" is used to describe the development of
matter (often called the "objective factor") without conscious human
intervention (often called the "subjective factor").  This term, as used by
Marxists, has been stretched just a bit; it refers to the development of
events in society as they would tend to occur--without any intervention by
the active, organized, conscious Marxist forces.

Marxist intervention is similar to a principle in martial arts called "the
principle of least effort".  It is the idea that conscious intervention in
a complex process seeks to link up with, rely on and guide the internal
forces which are *already present*.

As such, Marxists study very intently all forms of spontaneous development.
 The forces (ie: the conscious element) at the command of Marxists are
generally quite small.  The domain of events which the Marxists seek to
influence is generally quite large.  Therefore the supreme question
regarding method of approach concerns how to "do the most with the
least"--how to intervene in a vast material domain with only a very small
impulse--and yield from this--the greatest possible impact--the largest
possible reproduction and amplification of our effort.

And for this purpose, it becomes necessary for Marxists to study
spontaneous development--because this is the key to understanding the
*internal contradictions* existing in whatever sphere of operations is the
target.  Marxists study spontaneous development to the point where they
know it very well.  Marxists study spontaneous development--but they do not
consider it sacred--because their study is so that their *intervention* may
have the maximum impact.

If you want to lift a cup, you grab it by its handle.  If you want to
influence a complex process, you do so on the basis of seizing hold, so to
speak, of its internal contradictions.  A few examples may clarify this.

Some simple examples:

1) If you want a plant to grow, you have to make sure, it has sufficient
soil, water, sunlight and so forth.  The plant is actually growing on the
basis of its internal contradictions.  For example, its development is
determined by its genetic structure (and things like that) that you have no
control over.  You are not *making the plant grow*.  It is growing *by
itself*.  What you are doing is creating favorable external conditions that
allow the plant's inner contradictions to express themselves.

2) Say you are in the woods with only a match or two and want to build a
fire.  You start by collecting small, dry things like dried leaves, twigs
or moss.  You also collect some dried branches.  After that you look for
wood in a form that is a bit heavier.  Then you arrange the material so
that the first small flames will be sheltered from the wind (and not be
extinguished) and will be able to heat, dry and finally ignite the twigs,
which in turn will generate further heat ... and so on.  What you are
doing, is setting things up, so that once you light the match and ignite
the first dry leaves, the fire, so to speak, builds itself.  You may need
to carefully blow on the flames here or there to assist, but this would be
relatively minor intervention to assist and direct the on-going process.
What you have done, in the abstract, is set up and align the various
contradictions so that once started, the process has, to the maximum extent
possible, its own life, its own self-motion.

Let's consider now a less simple example, drawn from real life:

6b. Linking up with existing objective motion:
    "Skate for eight to make their frigates late"

When our party (the former MLP, which imploded in 1993 amidst virulent
sectarian infighting) was organizing in the shipyards, we spent a lot of
time studying the objective motion taking place there.  We studied the
development of the industry, the various trade unions and the history of
organizing by the CPUSA (which decades earlier had been a revolutionary
party).  We wanted to understand the ways in which the class struggle at
the yards was actually taking place--without our intervention.  We were,
after a bit, able to understand that the shipyard capitalists were engaged
in a program to intensify productivity at the expense of the working
conditions of the workers.  We also knew that there had to be objective
motion amongst the workers (even if at a fairly low level) in opposition to
this.  We wanted to *link up* with this motion, to find ways to support it
and give it helpful direction.  Our attitude was that by doing this, we
will, so to speak, earn the ear of many workers.

Now, at the time (this was in the late 1970's) there were many radical
political trends organizing in the shipyards.  In the Seattle area alone,
there were maybe 6,000 workers at the various yards (with maybe another
14,000 in the rest of the Puget Sound) and, in the aftermath of the 1960's,
there were whole scads of leftist groups which had concluded that it was
necessary to organize "at the point of production".  So we were hardly
alone in attempting to organize in the yards.

Now the other radical trends were (with all due respect to them) fairly
clueless about how to organize in the yards.  Some believed it would be
possible to reform the corrupt trade unions involved (there were 13 unions
covering the various crafts in the yards).  One group even managed to win
election to the presidency of the local Scalers' union (scalers are the
people who pump water out of the bilge and pick up the debris left by other
crafts).  But then the international headquarters of the union got rid of
the radicals by simply having the local suspended and put into receivership
for alleged "corruption" (talk about hypocrisy!).  Other groups would
distribute leaflets of varying quality at the gates in the morning.

We distributed at the gates in the morning also.  Some mornings it was like
a traffic jam during rush hour with all the different groups jockying for
position to hand out leaflets to the workers.

We alone had an analysis of the objective motion amongst the workers.  We
alone had in our leaflets an analysis of the productivity drive and
concrete, specific practical actions that workers could take to oppose it.

Let me give an example: the management at Todd shipyards (about 4,500
workers at the time) had painted on the whirlys (giant overhead cranes)
large slogans reading: "Eight for eight, to make our frigate futures
great".  This meant that all workers should be made to really bust their
butts every single minute of their 8 hour shifts--so that Todd would meet
its contract deadlines and have a better chance of securing future frigate
contracts from the Navy (a frigate is a small warship, slightly smaller
than a destroyer, generally armed to the teeth with missles).  This kind of
productivity propaganda was fairly irritating to the workers, who generally
were pushed like slaves in an environment that was none too pleasant.  No
political trend other than ourselves opposed this productivity drive.  The
unions were all quite comfortable in their business of selling workers to
the capitalists.  The commodity they were selling was a docile workforce.
And the more docile, the better and the less trouble for all concerned
(except the workers, of course, who were being driven like cattle to
compete with other workers for the worst wages and working conditions).

We were the only organized force which opposed the productivity drive.
When the Todd moneybags had that slogan painted on the whirlys--we
responded with a leaflet which had peel-and-stick stickers attached to it
saying: "Skate for eight, to make their frigates late" ("skate" is a term
common in the yards for slacking off).  We wanted the workers to be able to
stick their own counter-propaganda all over the yard whenever the
supervisors were not watching them.  To our surprise, the workers not only
did this--but a number even put these stickers right on their hardhats
(something that took a lot of balls considering the attitudes of the
supervisors and the fairly heavy  anti-communist atmosphere that saturated
the place).  This was quite a vindication of our orientation of determining
the objective motion taking place and linking up with it.

Now I don't want to imply that we only did agitation on the front of
economic struggle (half of our leaflets were on general political issues
dealing with society and the class struggle at large) but rather--that we
earned the attention of workers by linking up with their struggle even when
it was originally on such a low level that all the other groups could not
see it.

I won't (at least right here, right now) go on with more shipyard stories.
I will simply say that within a few years and with small forces (we had
only a few comrades who could give out leaflets at the gate and an equal
number on the inside organizing a pro-party trend and building a secret
literature distribution network), we went from a situation where we could
hardly give away leaflets at the gate, to a point where lots of workers
would openly read our newspaper, with a big hammer and sickle on the front
page, in the locker room at lunchtime.  Even the anti-communist workers,
who hated us and would threaten or harass our distributors (and there were
quite a few), found that it was necessary to read our leaflets simply in
order to understand what was going on.

And this was the result of our studying intently (but not worshipping) the
objective conditions in the yards, and the natural tendencies of
spontaneous development.

(to be continued)


      Next week:  Centralism in the Service of Democracy


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