Papers and Tigers: Was Lenin Really an Anarchist?

This post is part of our ongo­ing debate on the rel­e­vance of Lenin, which start­ed with Salar Mohan­desi and Todd Chre­tien. See the respon­se by Pham Binh, and Mohandesi’s final respon­se.


“Dur­ing the life­time of great rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, the oppress­ing class­es con­stant­ly hound­ed them, received their the­o­ries with the most sav­age mal­ice, the most furi­ous hatred and the most unscrupu­lous cam­paigns of lies and slan­der. After their death, attempts are made to con­vert them into harm­less icons, to can­on­ize them, so to say, and to hal­low their names to a cer­tain extent for the ‘con­so­la­tion’ of the oppressed class­es and with the object of dup­ing the lat­ter, while at the same time rob­bing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry of its sub­stance, blunt­ing its rev­o­lu­tion­ary edge and vul­gar­iz­ing it.” – Vladimir Lenin, State and Rev­o­lu­tion

“Asked after­wards about whether the Rus­sian cir­cus was going to kill the tiger involved, the train­er respond­ed with hon­esty. ‘If we were to shoot every tiger that attacks us, there wouldn’t be any remain­ing.’” – Jason Hrib­al, Fear of The Ani­mal Plan­et

Com­rade Lenin is just one in a long line of heroes I don’t know a lot about. He’s the kind of his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter engi­neered to mod­el, made for a time when rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies pinned up news­pa­per head­shots over their beds and went to bed vow­ing to wake up and be more like Che or Mao or Gaddafhi or Car­los or Ulrike or Huey or even masked Mar­cos. The 20th Cen­tu­ry saw Com­mu­nist Par­ties and par­ty­ing com­mu­nists, but both had their icons. We are, how­ev­er, icon­o­clasts; some bold sans-ser­if lulz-text in place of a black line.


This will then be a series of some­what dis­joint­ed thoughts about orga­ni­za­tion­al and strat­e­gy in the short-medi­um term.

I begin with an obser­va­tion: we do not have a par­ty. Whether we ought coa­lesce into a par­ty to main­tain and grow the Occu­py sequence is beside the point; what is clear is that we have not and do not appear to intend it any time soon. The inquiry should then be along the­se lines: why don’t we have a par­ty, and why won’t we be mak­ing one?

The August 2 Gen­er­al Assem­bly in New York marked a shift away from the tongue-bit­ing tol­er­ance the hard-left has offered social­ist par­ties. We went into the plaza with a par­ty and came out with a strat­e­gy instead. For all the grous­ing about a minor­i­ty of anar­chists who screw every­thing up, no one has put for­ward an alter­na­tive orga­ni­za­tion­al pro­gram to loose con­sen­sus that doesn’t get them laughed out of the trust cir­cle. Remem­ber when the OWS “Demands Work­ing Group” was a thing? Nei­ther does any­one else. Through­out the whole process I’ve heard a lot of calls for some kind of restrained deci­sion-mak­ing hier­ar­chy, but I’ve not once heard any­one put them­selves for­ward to lead.  And with good rea­son: we’d assume they were a cop or a con, a co-opter or a crazy.

Salar calls in his remarks for “an his­tor­i­cal­ly speci­fic pro­gram” and then ends, for that’s the lim­it. To actu­al­ly pre­scribe the pro­gram would be to mis­un­der­stand his rela­tion­ship as a schol­ar and the­o­rist to the actions in the street. The­se days no one is expect­ed to com­mand the army, con­quer the dialec­tic, and con­duct the march­ing band at the same time.

Todd’s pedan­tic arti­cle is a per­fect exam­ple of why we should be care­ful not to be too care­ful. Rev­o­lu­tion is not a genie lying dor­mant since 1917 in the right under­used library book. By the end of his state­ments, he has reduced the goal of the dis­cus­sion to spark­ing anoth­er sus­tained exam­i­na­tion of the strengths and weak­ness­es of the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion. If this is accom­plished “then we will have done our jobs.” As a schol­ar, per­haps this is the case – I wouldn’t know, I’m not a spe­cial­ist in the field  – but no revolutionary’s job is done with the rais­ing of aware­ness or debate.

It seems worth not­ing that the badge-check gate at Left Forum, where Salar and Todd gave their remarks, was stormed by marchers under an “Occu­py” ban­ner, who went around the con­fer­ence beseech­ing par­tic­i­pants to join them at Zuc­cot­ti Park only a cou­ple blocks away rather than delib­er­ate about the future of the occu­pa­tion inside an expen­sive event. Some joined, most did not.

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry should inform our behav­ior in the streets, but cer­tain­ly no more than our expe­ri­ences in the streets should inform our the­o­ry. It has been aston­ish­ing to see how dis­ci­plined, cre­ative, but most impor­tant­ly, intel­li­gent, I’ve seen crowds be dur­ing this sequence. Much has been made of Twitter’s role in aid­ing in the coor­di­na­tion of demon­stra­tions, but there’s been less said about the amount of cap­i­tal invest­ed in mak­ing the­se activists strong post-Fordist work­ers. The same traits that the “knowl­edge econ­o­my” val­orizes (spon­tane­ity, ambi­tion, self-orga­ni­za­tion, quick always-on com­mu­ni­ca­tion, work­ing in teams) are what have enabled the occu­pa­tions to take hold in the par­tic­u­lar form that they have. “Idle chat­ter” between work­ers was a threat on the Fordist pro­duc­tion line, now it’s a site of cap­ture. We’re trained to do it. Of course the rev­o­lu­tion­ary work­ers went to look for Lenin at the cru­cial moment – but would we?

A his­tori­cized analy­sis has to take capital’s role in the pro­duc­tion of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty seri­ous­ly, not as a spell to be undone or a veil to be lift­ed, but as a mate­ri­al ele­ment of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion. Cap­i­tal births its own very speci­fic gravedig­gers; or, to do some vio­lence to a cou­ple of sage koans: you don’t go to war with the army you want, but if you try some­times, you just might find, you go to war with the army you need.

If cap­i­tal real­ly want­ed to crip­ple Occu­py, it could stop pro­duc­ing Adder­all. But it can’t.

The jux­ta­po­si­tion of the above images rais­es a cou­ple ques­tions I want to address. First: its rela­tion to the Lenin quote that begins both this piece and State and Rev­o­lu­tion, and sec­ond: what it has to do with a par­ty. The­se are the same ques­tion.

1.

Lenin is writ­ing of Marx, but a bet­ter con­tem­po­rary exam­ple might be Cor­nel West’s descrip­tion of anti-apartheid mil­i­tant Nel­son Mandela’s reha­bil­i­ta­tion in Occi­den­tal eyes as “San­ta-Clausi­fi­ca­tion.” And he’s not even dead.

Cap­i­tal must grow to sur­vive – we all agree on this. That means sub­sum­ing new spaces of human activ­i­ty, a lit­er­al and fig­u­ra­tive colo­nial­ism. Over time, there are few­er and few­er spaces left to invade, but the need for growth doesn’t dimin­ish. There are a few options, one of which is to col­o­nize and extract val­ue from the future through the inno­va­tion of finan­cial prod­ucts and the growth of stu­dent debt. But cap­i­tal inevitably faces what Alber­to Toscano describes as a dou­ble bind, hav­ing to encour­age thought and behav­ior that is not yet nec­es­sar­i­ly in its inter­est. The Matrix pop­u­lar­ized this line of thought when the writ­ers had to find a way to explain why rev­o­lu­tion was still pos­si­ble in a real­i­ty com­plete­ly man­u­fac­tured by malev­o­lent machi­nes: if it weren’t, the whole pro­gram wouldn’t work. A cir­cus needs tigers.

The recu­per­a­tion Lenin describes def­i­nite­ly still hap­pens – most notably in Apple’s “Think Dif­fer­ent” series, an almost com­i­cal­ly text­book appli­ca­tion of the the­o­ry – but meth­ods must devel­op with the growth. While Marx could be exclu­sive­ly “hound­ed” in his life­time, today’s cap­i­tal­ists don’t have that lux­u­ry. But rev­o­lu­tion­ary affect is a dan­ger­ous space for a cap­i­tal­ist to tread – if it weren’t, the pro­gram wouldn’t work. No risk, no reward. Unleash the chaos.

His own sub­sump­tion didn’t have to come into Lenin’s deci­sion cal­cu­lus as a lead­er. He could rea­son­ably believe his polit­i­cal pro­gram could advance faster than its appro­pri­a­tion. We no longer have that lux­u­ry; instead, we won­der what’s going to be in Ben and Jerry’s Occu­py fla­vor. And I’m not just talk­ing about the for­mal sub­sump­tion of rev­o­lu­tion either – using at-hand pitch­forks and buy­ing guns and rely­ing on ren­tiers like Twit­ter, Livestream, and Kick­starter are three dif­fer­ent things. I’m talk­ing your-face-on-a-t-shirt-while-you’re-still-alive shit. Appro­pri­ate or be appro­pri­at­ed. We don’t need more icons, we need more black lines.

2.

Pas­sive voice is near­ly always a hint to look closer, to find the sub­ject. Who is the sub­ject in “Anar­chy Sym­bol Updat­ed To Appeal To Today’s Teens?” The answer to the joke about the lim­its of capital’s abil­i­ty to sub­sume its own antag­o­nists is rep­e­ti­tion in a flat voice: Sell anar­chy! Sell anar­chy. And by who else but a brand that had hit the lim­it of sex­ploita­tion adver­tis­ing, acci­den­tal­ly asso­ci­at­ing them­selves with the des­per­a­tion that under­lies the appeal. Who updates the anar­chy logo? The mar­ket does.

Wit­ness Levi’s hav­ing to pull this ad because of the Tot­ten­ham riots. It end­ed up com­ing off in con­text as a real­ly strong pro­pa­gan­da short-film in favor of gen­er­al­iz­ing the unrest. One of the argu­ments again­st party­less orga­ni­za­tion and spon­ta­neous action is that there is no time to craft a mes­sage in advance. But here it was, off the air but in the YouTube blood­stream, per­fect­ly cal­i­brat­ed. After all, you can’t just sell peo­ple jeans any more. That no video edi­tor took the five min­utes nec­es­sary to cut out the Levi’s brand­ing and paste in “sol­i­dar­i­ty means attack” is a crime.

Of course, the Axe mar­ket­ing cam­paign leaves some­thing to be desired when it comes to rev­o­lu­tion­ary insti­ga­tion. But who says we can’t all be guer­ril­la mar­keters for Anar­chy? It would be easy to make offi­cial-look­ing Axe Anar­chy t-shirts because the logo is a graf­fi­ti sten­cil. The fake shirts would be real­er than the real thing. Unilever has already spent mil­lions mak­ing Anar­chy a trust­ed brand; cap­i­tal doesn’t just birth its grave dig­gers, it equips us with machin­ery.

If we have a par­ty, we have the only par­ty that finds a way to include every­one in its oper­a­tion, the par­ty that works whether mem­bers believe in it or not, the only one that’s struc­tural­ly invul­ner­a­ble to any sin­gle mem­ber being killed or dis­cred­it­ed.

Who turned the occu­pa­tions into Occu­py?


Tiqqun has attempt­ed to the­o­rize such an orga­ni­za­tion in the form of the “Imag­i­nary Par­ty,” which “com­pos­es itself to this day of the neg­a­tive mul­ti­tude of those who do not have a class, and do not want to have one, of the soli­tary crowd of those who have re-appro­pri­at­ed their fun­da­men­tal non-appear­ance in com­mod­i­ty soci­ety under the form of a vol­un­tary non-par­tic­i­pa­tion in it.” Here mem­ber­ship in the par­ty is based on a kind of aware­ness and a cor­re­spond­ing refusal: “there are in this soci­ety but two par­ties: the par­ty of those who pre­tend that there is but one par­ty, and the par­ty of those who know that there are in truth two. Already from this obser­va­tion, one will know to rec­og­nize our par­ty.”

The nega­tion of the nega­tion.

One part Bartle­by, one part Fight Club, this “vol­un­tary non-par­tic­i­pa­tion” deserves some more scruti­ny. Par­tic­i­pa­tion and par­ty have the same root, but I have to assume the Imag­i­nary Par­ty does not just include the very few peo­ple in the West total­ly self-exclud­ed from com­mod­i­ty soci­ety. When Tiqqun describes the con­ser­v­a­tive seg­ments of the Par­ty (“lib­er­tar­i­an mili­ti­as, right-wing anar­chists, insur­rec­tionary fas­cists, Qur­bist jihadists, rural­ist mili­ti­as”), the list includes groups that could hard­ly be said to be non-par­tic­i­pants. Amer­i­can Renais­sance held their last nation­al con­fer­ence at an Olive Gar­den. To break a win­dow is to employ a glazier. Your books have bar­codes too. If mem­ber­ship in the Imag­i­nary Par­ty is deter­mined by style of life, then as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion it will remain decid­ed­ly imag­i­nary.

So we’re talk­ing about some sort of non-com­pli­ance of the will, of the spir­it, if not of the hands and stom­ach. There are two par­ties: those who get some­thing fun­da­men­tal about this real­i­ty and those who don’t. The awake and the asleep.

That the Imag­i­nary Par­ty is appar­ent­ly con­sti­tut­ed in large part by orga­nized and vio­lent misog­y­nists doesn’t come up.

But in San­ford, Flori­da, is it the armed Nazi patrolling the streets or who­ev­er put six shots in an emp­ty cop car that’s a mem­ber of the Par­ty? In the event that the two come in con­tact, would that be what Tiqqun calls the intra-Par­ty civil war? The process they call “par­ty build­ing?” Which of the two par­ties was Trayvon Mar­t­in, forever asso­ci­at­ed with Skit­tles and Ari­zona Iced Tea, in? I believe any con­cep­tu­al appa­ra­tus or polit­i­cal map that can’t at very least address this con­junc­tion of actors will be irrel­e­vant in the time-frame I’m attempt­ing to think.

In Tiqqun’s for­mu­la­tion then, I’m a mem­ber of the first of one par­ty. There is indeed one par­ty, and we’re all par­tic­i­pants.

#34 in “Gov­ern­ment > Pub­lic Pol­i­cy”

I once met an Ital­ian at a con­fer­ence who told me over beers about how he and his com­rades used EU grants designed to facil­i­tate cross-bor­der youth cul­tur­al exchange to con­vene groups of rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­mu­nists. He must have sensed some hes­i­ta­tion on my part because he pulled up his sleeves and thrust his arms toward me as if the words were no longer in his throat but in his palms: “The­se hands are not clean! There are no clean hands!”


To return to my orig­i­nal ques­tion: we won’t be hav­ing a par­ty because, like a gold­fish look­ing for a glass of water, we already have one – we are a par­ty to the cap­i­tal­ist state. The CP is orga­nized but rid­dled with con­tra­dic­tion, always try­ing to run and untie its own shoes at the same time. With­in the par­ty of cap­i­tal, the Left is just one of dozens of eso­ter­ic mil­lenar­i­an sects devot­ed to the wider organization’s self-destruc­tion. Not pre­de­ter­mined, but fore­told in a great many lan­guages and codes.

Sab­o­tage occurs from the inside, with and to the equip­ment at hand. To put down our tools – either in search of the per­fect work­ing class orga­ni­za­tion­al “sword” or to wedge our hands in the gears – would be to put down our tools. A mil­i­tant pol­i­cy of stop­ping capital’s flows leaves you stand­ing in the mid­dle of the street hug­ging a truck’s bumper. But grab a few reflect­ing vests and a few signs and sud­den­ly you’re direct­ing a column of speed­ing steel.

In Hribal’s book about ani­mal resis­tance, he details the dif­fer­ence between refusal and sab­o­tage. Appar­ent­ly, per­form­ing ani­mals about to go on ram­pages are very good at pre­tend­ing noth­ing is wrong, and going along with the show as planned before snap­ping at the cru­cial moment. The sto­ry of the tiger who attacks his train­er is always already part of the show, or it wouldn’t be much of a show at all. So why refuse to go on when you can prac­tice that bit where they put their head in your mouth?

What will be the impor­tance of Lenin in the next two years of anti-cap­i­tal­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle? I don’t know, but I expect it will be minor on an absolute scale. If it’s as large as the tem­po­rary inter­est in Marx that pre­oc­cu­pied The Econ­o­mist for a few weeks dur­ing the height of the hous­ing cri­sis, I would be sur­prised, and that’s still rel­a­tive­ly minor. The prob­lem isn’t that Lenin is an emp­ty sym­bol of rev­o­lu­tion, but that the Left has a lot invest­ed in his sym­bol­ic mean­ing, while our ene­mies have almost noth­ing. We have lit­tle to gain and a lot of time to lose – it’s a suck­er bet. But things change; may­be they’ll do a biopic. Leo DiCaprio with a fur­rowed brow, a sharp goa­tee. Let them print the posters.


Levi’s Berlin Print Shop

May 1 Gen­er­al Strike

Author of the article

is a managing editor of The New Inquiry and a writer based in Brooklyn.

20 Responses

  1. How Does Theory Guide Practice? A Response to Salar Mohandesi on State and Revolution « Viewpoint Magazine

    […] of Rev­o­lu­tion: Reflec­tions on Lenin’s State and Rev­o­lu­tion.” Also see the respon­se by Mal­colm Har­ris. Pet­ro­grad Mil­i­tary Com­mit­tee of the Bol­she­viks, July […]

  2. The Actuality of the Revolution: Reflections on Lenin’s State and Revolution « Viewpoint Magazine

    […] and its impli­ca­tions for the present: see the first respon­se by Todd Chre­tien, and the sec­ond by Mal­colm Har­ris; check back for more. Ivan Puni, “Armed work­ers in a […]

  3. Trevor Owen Jones
    Trevor Owen Jones at |

    But isn’t it a prob­lem that its priv­i­leged, white, upper-mid­dle-class kids that are push­ing this posi­tion? This has nev­er been addressed. Sec­ond­ly, from an under­stand­ing of pow­er, much of this kind of rhetoric is rather naive.

    Some full disclosure/criticism-self-criticism here is nec­es­sary, I think.

    1. Karen
      Karen at |

      What “posi­tion” are you refer­ring to? Har­ris seems to be mak­ing sev­er­al points here, one being that Lenin­ists make fools of them­selves when they talk about being the “mass van­guard par­ty” or what­ev­er oth­er non­sense is obvi­ous­ly a com­plete non-starter for over­throw­ing cap­i­tal­ism and insti­tut­ing some­thing bet­ter. I couldn’t agree more. But what does all this have to do with Har­ris’ race or back­ground? There are anti-sta­tists who believe in decen­tral­ized direct action who are not white, in case you weren’t aware. And plen­ty of white Lenin­ists too, for that mat­ter. A very weak red her­ring you’re throw­ing out there.

      1. Trevor Owen Jones
        Trevor Owen Jones at |

        March 4th, 2010 @ Hunter Col­lege.

        It doesn’t take a polit­i­cal genius to under­stand how “insur­rec­tion­ism” in the Unit­ed States is peo­ple just play­ing games. As a pet the­o­ry of course, it does allow you to make sweep­ing gen­er­al­iza­tions, ridicu­lous claims and sen­sa­tion­al­ist blath­er in bour­geois lit­er­ary enclaves of Brook­lyn. I’m sure Har­ris, just like Williams, know just what they are doing to build the per­son­al brand.

        1. Karen
          Karen at |

          What do you know about March 4th 2010 at Hunter? I was there, that was when the Lenin­ists re-assert­ed their con­trol over the New York stu­dent move­ment and killed it.

          Is this the Trevor Jones who used to attend read­ing groups at the Brecht Forum? If you’re going to go ad hominem, I have to point out that you’re also a mid­dle-class white guy, whose “activism” amounts to join­ing “lit­er­ary enclaves” and appar­ent­ly, fight­ing inter­net bat­tles on Marx­ist web­sites.

          1. Pham Binh
            Pham Binh at |

            Sad­ly, it’s not the first/last time some­thing like that has hap­pened: http://comrademotopu.com/attemptfixisonuts.htm

        2. Karen
          Karen at |

          ps. the insur­rec­tion­ists I know are active on the street and have paid a pret­ty high price for ideas they take seri­ous­ly. Sor­ry if that makes you feel jeal­ous and/or infe­ri­or.

          1. Trevor Owen Jones
            Trevor Owen Jones at |

            It doesn’t make me feel jeal­ous or infe­ri­or, it makes me frus­trat­ed with what a waste of time it is.

            and yes, I am a mid­dle class white guy who used to attend read­ing groups at the Brecht Forum, who hap­pens to think reselling Tiqqun to peo­ple and pass­ing it off as your own is a pret­ty disin­gen­u­ous way of doing jour­nal­ism and talk­ing about social change. I also hap­pened to think the dinosaur groups at CUNY were dis­gust­ing and was very vocal about it-- I also thought the class and race divide between the New School group (the mem­o­rable quote from one of them, “I’ll kick you in the cunt, bitch”, or some­such) and CUNY kids was odd yet was nev­er par­tic­u­lar­ly con­sid­ered impor­tant by the insur­rec­tion­ist crowd, who all weird­ly came from more priv­i­leged back­grounds than myself, let alone the stu­dents at Hunter.

            Dialec­tics is see­ing how both sides suck and not agree­ing with either. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the NY scene was over­wrought with an obtuse mil­len­ni­al­ism ever to see past such a fine scaled nuance.

            p.s. not sure how you know I am, because I do not remem­ber a Karen.

          2. Karen
            Karen at |

            You still haven’t real­ly said why you oppose Har­ris or Tiqqun or “insur­rec­tion­ism” or Calder Williams, which are not all the same thing but are all obvi­ous­ly non-lenin­ist. OK, “mil­len­ni­al­ism”. You’re start­ing to for­mu­late a cri­tique. Still don’t under­stand the obses­sion with people’s back­grounds, which is rarely a reli­able guide to any­thing and not very “dialec­ti­cal” or nuanced.

            For exam­ple, it’s a false­hood that was prop­a­gat­ed by the lenin­ists that all the anar­chists in the stu­dent move­ment were from the New School (and that every­one at the New School is rich and white). There were anar­chists attend­ing CUNY. A lot of the anar­chists didn’t attend any uni­ver­si­ty! The per­son who made the unfor­tu­nate “cunt” remark (in the heat of a scuf­fle start­ed by the per­son he insult­ed) was black, and not a stu­dent at all, in fact. But it suit­ed the lenin­ists to say that they rep­re­sent­ed the work­ing-class peo­ple of col­or and that anar­chists were crazy rich white kids.

            What did all the­se obses­sions with (and lies about) who attends what uni­ver­si­ty, what col­or their skin was or how much their par­ents make amount to? They were nev­er any­thing but a way for the lenin­ists to slan­der peo­ple with dif­fer­ent ideas and tac­tics, to dis­miss anar­chist orga­niz­ing with­out actu­al­ly debat­ing it.

            I have to admit I thought some of the rhetoric at the time about the “Com­ing Insur­rec­tion” or what­ev­er sound­ed mil­len­ni­al. “Occu­py Every­thing”? How ridicu­lous and unre­al­is­tic, right? But now a few short years lat­er the­se are the words on everyone’s lips.

            Karen isn’t my real name of course haha.

          3. Trevor Owen Jones
            Trevor Owen Jones at |

            I feel that you and I are get­ting close to an actu­al con­ver­sa­tion which I would like to con­tin­ue, but if you’re not going to rep­re­sent your­self as your­self, I don’t see the need.

            Suf­fice it to say, Har­ris’ nasty online behav­ior else­where has cre­at­ed him plen­ty of ‘haters’. I am sor­ry and sur­prised View­point gave him a plat­form to begin with.

  4. David W. Kasper
    David W. Kasper at |

    “Com­rade Lenin is just one in a long line of heroes I don’t know a lot about.” Some con­fes­sion. It hasn’t stopped you from proud­ly foghorn­ing your igno­rance else­where. Your idea of ‘anar­chy’ appears based on a speech the Jok­er gave to Two-Face (take it from me - the ver­sion in the book was bet­ter).

    Do you ‘google­whack’ words that get you hot, and base your ‘polit­i­cal the­o­ry’ on the first five or six images that come up? You need a bet­ter search engine if you do. May­be you should ‘put down your tools’ before the rest of us. Seri­ous­ly. Things are bad enough already.

    At this point, we have a right to know: Were you home-schooled? If so, was it a younger sib­ling, or a speak ‘n’ spell toy? Try not to google the answer…

  5. Pham Binh
    Pham Binh at |

    Har­ris’ piece rais­es a lot of issues that go way beyond any­thing remote­ly relat­ed to the 1917 Rus­sian rev­o­lu­tion, which is regret­tably what my forth­com­ing reply dis­cuss­es at length (although I bring things up to date in my con­clu­sion).

    One of the sub­stan­tive points Har­ris makes that the Marx­ist left has yet to think through to the end is the way in which mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions (inter­net + smart phone ubiq­ui­ty) have pro­found­ly altered how peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate, social­ize, and inter­act, all of which has pro­found impli­ca­tions for any mod­ern par­ty-build­ing effort.

    For exam­ple, in the not too dis­tant past, start­ing a news­pa­per required an edi­to­ri­al and a pro­duc­tion team; con­trib­u­tors sub­mit­ted writ­ten mate­ri­al, and through a labor-inten­sive, a pub­li­ca­tion would even­tu­al­ly appear. Nowa­days any­one can write and pub­lish instant­ly. Read­ers can also respond instant­ly; no more mail­bag columns in the next issue.

    This is just one exam­ple that can be mul­ti­plied many times over.

    Hor­i­zon­tal­ism is no pass­ing fad; it is the log­i­cal result of the internet/smart phone rev­o­lu­tion. Top-down or ver­ti­cal orga­ni­za­tions (unions, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, “Lenin­st” groups) have all proven thus far to be too inflex­i­ble to co-opt or (mis)lead Occu­py. Even the tiny “Lenin­ist” groups that are not weighed down with top-heavy bureau­cra­cies were unable to rise to the tasks Occu­py cre­at­ed -- while they spent hours try­ing to fig­ure out how to “inter­vene” in Occu­py, Occu­py didn’t sit and wait for them, it act­ed and trans­formed itself, ren­der­ing the group’s delib­er­a­tions irrel­e­vant because the con­text they were count­ing on dis­ap­peared. The­se ver­ti­cals are too slow to keep up; the­se groups are geared towards wag­ing wars of posi­tion (pro­pa­gan­da) not wag­ing wars of maneu­ver (agi­ta­tion). Even NATO strug­gled to keep up with all of the action­able intel com­ing out over Twit­ter, through YouTube, and decen­tral­ized activist net­works using Livestream and Skype in Libya as Clay Clai­borne not­ed in his recent Dai­lyKos piece.

    The Occu­py sequence (to use Har­ris’ expres­sion) was always more about maneu­ver than posi­tion, espe­cial­ly now in its post-evic­tion phase which is more akin to guer­ril­la war­fare than set piece bat­tles over a space like Zuc­cot­ti Park, Trin­i­ty Church, or the Oak­land con­ven­tion cen­ter. Groups unac­cus­tomed to tak­ing inde­pen­dent and ambi­tious ini­tia­tives autonomous­ly have large­ly been left behind and will con­tin­ue to be so until they learn, adapt, and change -- if they ever do.

    If there’s one thing Lenin was good at it was being open-mind­ed and tac­ti­cal­ly flex­i­ble while remain­ing unswerv­ing­ly devot­ed to the cause of the work­ing class. His would-be imi­ta­tors seem to have for­got­ten this, hav­ing turned him into a harm­less icon with which to con­sole them­selves. Hence why there is more Lenin in Har­ris than there is in most so-called Lenin­ists.

    1. Trevor Owen Jones
      Trevor Owen Jones at |

      I’m not so sure I under­stand what you mean. I find this arti­cle to be pri­mar­i­ly vague rhetor­i­cal flour­ish­es that lack analy­sis or any actu­al grap­pling with work­ing class issues.

      To me, dis­cus­sions of “Lenin” out­side the admit­ted­ly clois­tered Marx­ist coter­ies is synec­doche with ques­tions of the state and ques­tions of pow­er. Peo­ple like Har­ris are not grap­pling with con­cerns to posi­tion them­selves into pow­er because they are already born and guar­an­teed voic­es in the reign­ing bour­geoisie. There is noth­ing at stake in this person’s sophistry; any­one at all with any expe­ri­ence in the puta­tive “Left” is used to this mas­cu­line loud­mouth pos­tur­ing, the lat­est incar­na­tion of which is sim­ply an unthink­ing adher­ence to some clum­sy insur­rec­tion­ist vocab­u­lary and blah­blah­blah (see Evan Calder Williams, for instance).

      The con­cern is not about “Occu­py” or any such short term think­ing but how to over­throw cap­i­tal­ism. Per­haps its good we have the­se signs of bour­geois week­enders embrac­ing “anar­chism” now as it is a sign the pure soulisms are now in their final stages of mov­ing into more prag­mat­ic realms.

      1. Pham Binh
        Pham Binh at |

        The ins and outs of 1917 and the rights and wrongs of Lenin hard­ly con­sti­tute “work­ing-class issues”; your crit­i­cism of Har­ris on the­se grounds applies with equal force to the oth­er par­tic­i­pants in this debate, myself includ­ed. Class and race bait­ing him doesn’t help either. It’s a weak sub­sti­tute for actu­al­ly engag­ing him in a debate.

        1. Trevor Owen Jones
          Trevor Owen Jones at |

          I’m not debat­ing this person’s argu­ment. It’s strict­ly ad hominem. This much is clear?

  6. Occupy the Russian Revolution « Viewpoint Magazine

    […] on Lenin’s State and Rev­o­lu­tion.” Also see the ear­lier respons­es by Todd Chre­tien and Mal­colm Har­ris. Mohandesi’s respon­se is […]

  7. Malcolm Harris (@BigMeanInternet)
    Malcolm Harris (@BigMeanInternet) at |

    1. I’m pret­ty sure call­ing some­one white doesn’t qual­i­fy as race-bait­ing.
    2. The word “insur­rec­tion” appears one time in the arti­cle (in a quote of Tiqqun, mod­i­fy­ing “fas­cists”), and six times in the com­ments.
    3. Did you read “one part Bartle­by, one part Fight Club” as an endorse­ment? Because I thought we all agreed that Fight Club sucked a long time ago.
    4. There are no dis­cus­sions about Lenin out­side clois­tered Marx­ist coter­ies, and if there were, how the hell would you know?
    5. “Upper-mid­dle-class” is some obfus­cat­ing bull­shit. I grew up pret­ty damn bour­geois. Which - nei­ther here nor there - Lenin argues is nei­ther unsur­pris­ing nor unde­sir­able. But I’m already on record as not a big fan of the dude, so what­ev.
    6. An ad-hom argu­ment would actu­al­ly attack me per­son­al­ly, rather than some shad­owy mias­ma of peo­ple hold­ing the same posi­tion. Get at me moth­er­fuck­er, there’s plen­ty there.
    7. Dialec­tics is, in fact, not “see­ing how both sides suck and not agree­ing with either.” That is actu­al­ly referred to as “sip­ping on Hat­er­ade” and “being a use­less douche.” It’s symp­to­matic of a late-cap­i­tal­ism that threat­ens full sub­sump­tion - how can you agree with some­thing when the mar­ket will just sell it back to you? This is actu­al­ly the sub­ject of this essay. Did you, by any chance, stop wear­ing black when Hot Top­ic opened? That’s a los­ing strat­e­gy.
    8. Besides, between anar­chists and Lenin­ists is the wrong place to exam­ine the dialec­tic any­way, because no one cares about it except you.
    9. I lol every time my writ­ing gets com­pared to Evan’s because it makes me smile and all my friends groan. Please do not encour­age me to write like that, I am not near­ly skilled enough at it.
    10. I love when so-called Marx­ists flip out and go all “You’re just try­ing to get peo­ple to agree with what you say based on how you say it! Rhetoric!” Yeah man, why else would you open your mouth? We’re here to help make some­thing hap­pen, right?

  8. Weekend Reading « Backslash Scott Thoughts

    […] Paper and Tigers: Was Lenin Real­ly an Anar­chist? […]

  9. All Tomorrow’s Parties: A Reply to Critics « Viewpoint Magazine

    […] Mal­colm Har­ris begins by sug­gest­ing that a changed class com­po­si­tion requires a changed form of strug­gle. He writes: […]

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