- Capitalism and Alternatives -

'Sectarian' Marxism and SDF's Utopian Snit-fit

Posted by: Barry Stoller on November 26, 1999 at 11:39:26:

In Reply to: sectarian Marxism and ecosocialism: is the split final? posted by Samuel Day Fassbinder on November 25, 1999 at 17:46:23:

'Socialism does not aim at creating a socialist psychology as a prerequisite to socialism but at creating socialist conditions of life as a prerequisite to socialist psychology.'

: Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a more important post to respond to.

Despite the truly uninviting tone of your latest post, I do have a few comments.

You repudiate the idea of a revolutionary party leading the working class. That, you say, is 'vanguardist.' My attacks on those who champion private property of the means of production and support institutional inequality (i.e. Rawlsian 'justice') you call 'sectarian.' You quote revisionist history by Julius Braunthal that makes it look like Marx believed that Communists should subordinate their aims in order to achieve unity with a host of liberal and democratic parties. You also say that 'sectarians'---pointlessly quoting the 'founding fathers' of Marxism---disregard 'empirical' facts when assessing revolutionary potential. And, finally, you insist on a future ecological crisis of apocalyptic proportions which will act as midwife to a mass commune movement (which will engender socialism).

Let us look at those assertions.

Perhaps a party devoted to the elimination of private ownership of the means of production should accept into its ranks 'fellow-travelers' who believe that 'some' members of society should own some means of production. Perhaps a party devoted to the elimination of hierarchy should accept into its ranks 'fellow-travelers' who wouldn't discount the 'possibility' of benevolent authoritarianism. And perhaps a party devoted to the economic equality of all citizens should accept into its ranks 'fellow travelers' who believe that 'some' inequality is inevitable or even acceptable.

What steady leadership that would be!

On to Braunthal. The treasured quote, of course, is this:

The Communists have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.(1)

Yet a few sentences later, Marx and Engels wrote:

The Communists...are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.(2)

THERE is your dreaded 'vanguard'!

You seem to insinuate that the vanguard REJECTS the masses. This is not true:

If you want to help the 'masses' and win the sympathy and support of the 'masses,' you [Communists]...must absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found.(3)

But the point IS to win them over to the communist side!

As I pointed before, Marx and Engels---burnt by unity with 'democratic' parties on the 'democratic' parties' terms---changed their earlier stance:

[U]nity must be rejected in a decisive manner. Instead of letting themselves out to the bourgeois Democrats to serve them as a sort of applauding choir, the workers (and above all the League) must work for the establishment of an independent secret and open organization of the worker's party side by side with the official Democrats, and make every municipality a center and a nucleus of workers' societies, in which the position and interests of the proletariat should be discussed independently of bourgeois influences.(4)

In short: unity with other parties when (and only when) strategically propitious---YET no admission of bourgeois elements into the revolutionary organization (necessary to lead the proletariat to success) itself.

Now a minor question: is Marxism what Braunthal quotes?; is 'sectarian' Marxism what he omits?

On to your next point. Do 'sectarians'---busy accumulating quotes in order to bore people to death on BBS's---disregard 'empirical' facts when assessing revolutionary potential?

I can only speak for myself on this issue.

I stated that I think communists should stress job satisfaction (alienation) INSTEAD of income when addressing Americans---an idea that you rather disregarded in favor of ecological doomsday scenarios.

I also stated that I think Russia is the most likely place the next communist revolution COULD occur.

And...that's about it.

On to the last point.

: [W]ouldn't it be a good idea to discover EXPERIMENTALLY what social strategy would promote the "class consciousness" we'd find most useful?

I mentioned some difficulties inherent in small-scale socialism in this post and this post.

To recap: small-scale socialism (AKA voluntary peasant socialism), lacking the social mode of production developed fully by industrialization, cannot hope to produce enough to sustain itself without trading with or working for the capitalists---on the capitalist's terms.

The minimal standard of living that characterizes most intentional communities does not attract poor working people who wish to live BETTER---not 'more simply.'

Thus, the only people attracted to such communities have been educated, middle class idealists who wish to escape the travails of 'modern society'---however briefly.

Because most intentional communities lack economies of scale, they devote themselves to producing one or two 'cottage industry' commodities. This, in turn, greatly reduces job variety and choice---which, in turn, explains the substantial turn-over rate experienced by most intentional communities.

To legally start an intentional community requires a large investment (and logically would engender a strong respect for private property---the very thing communism OPPOSES). To expropriate land would result in a Waco-styled showdown---unless the commune movement was millions of people strong---which would be THE revolution (and would infer some level of organization---the very thing you are raking me over the coals for recommending).

Adding those concerns to your projected ecological catastrophe as midwife of the revolution, I would say that oil shortages---for example---would adversely affect intentional communities even more than other areas. After all, most communes are rurally isolated.*

Those are some 'empirical' thoughts for you to consider when---or if---you ever get through with your 'more important post to respond to.'


* Twin Oaks' newsletter The Leaves (Winter 1997) criticized the UPS strike because it stopped vital commodity flows to and from the community.


1. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, International 1948, p. 22.

2. Ibid.

3. Lenin, '"Left-Wing" Communism---an Infantile Disorder,' Selected Works volume three, International 1975, pp. 317-18.

4. Marx, 'First Address of the Central Committee of the Communist League to its Members in Germany,' appendix to Engels, Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, International 1933, p. 140.

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