Some words about Marxism-Leninism
This topic comes up via Revolutionary Blackout Network, because Rome, whose vision apparently informs RBN, proclaimed himself to be a Marxist-Leninist. Here's the appropriate video:
You'd think the topic would die there because what you see from RBN mostly is critiques of the news, and they're mostly good critiques of the news. But here they are bringing it up again:
What you have mostly in this RBN video are rebuttals of this point or that as typically used to demonize the Soviet Union. It's all more or less "the bad guys say this; we say this."
Putting out this stuff is risky because it adds to the Internet trend of dividing people up into small groups, each with its own set of beliefs. RBN's work is much more useful when they discuss "post-duopoly" -- the two-party system in the US is useless for conducting actual politics, to the point at which nobody even dares to oppose liberal oligarchy, and RBN dares to oppose liberal oligarchy. So that's a good thing. This, on the other hand, deserves a further explanation.
Maybe it makes sense to be a Marxist-Leninist if you live in abandoned Detroit or Cleveland. I don't know; I'm not there. But here are some annoying details:
1) At its most effective, the Soviet Union was an example of war communism. Think, in this regard, of the comradeship of soldiers on the battlefield, magnified into a principle of an entire society. This version of communism was an outgrowth of the process by which the Soviet Union was created -- in March of 1917 a stupid, inbred, and widely hated royal family, the Romanovs, had abdicated during a super-deadly war, World War I, in which they were losing badly. A political vacuum ensued, and later in 1917 Lenin took over in a coup d'etat.
The big Soviet achievements were the defeat of the other parties in the Russian Civil War, the industrialization of the Soviet Union, doing most of the heavy lifting in defeating Hitler, putting the first individual into outer space, Sputnik, supporting the Cuban Revolution. All of these efforts were characterized as war efforts. But there's no longer a Soviet Union. So what happened?
The problem with war communism was that, once the wars (symbolic or real) were over, some of the attributes of the old social imaginary came back. Note the ease with which Boris Yeltsin created the Russian oligarchs as a new Russian nobility, like that which was solidified under the Romanovs. Or -- even more within Soviet society -- imagine Joseph Stalin as the Communist version of Peter the Great, dragging Russian society into modernity without concern for brutality. So when Gorbachev put the word out back in 1989 or 1990 or 1991 that Russia was (according to his dictates) to become like Sweden, instead Russia became like Russia. A CIA report on Yeltsin's Russia concluded that its economy was run by 120 or so competing Mafias.
2) The primary communist thing missing from war communism is horizontal political relations. These were the social relations which Occupy tried to organize in 2011. The fundamental principle behind horizontal political relations is that you want to be able to do things as a group without a leader telling you to do them first. The collective West likes to use the word "democracy," as if the holding of elections constituted the whole potato of democracy. The Soviets held elections. Only one individual was on the ballot for each of the offices. There was only one political party: the Communist Party. What America needs for its immediate future, and what one of the RBN participants actually advocated, is a multi-party democracy, to at least give the voters some choice. In fact, RBN is one of the most important forces in America today militating for a multi-party democracy.
Perhaps this could be handled through ranked-choice voting or some other such mechanism. At any rate, when the decisions are ultimately undemocratic, you have no democracy. Cornelius Castoriadis:
One of the many reasons why it is laughable to call contemporary Western societies “democratic” is because the “public” sphere is in fact private – be it in France, the United States, or England. This is true, first of all, in that the real decisions are made behind closed doors, backstage, or in places where those who govern meet informally. It is well-known that they are not made in those official places where they are supposed to be made.
3) No, Stalin was not a "democratic leader." He killed or imprisoned all of the old Bolsheviks, the people who could remember the role of Trotsky in the October Revolution. The 1936 Constitution was for show; it had no enforcement teeth. At the end of his life Stalin was organizing a pogrom against Jews, in which Vasily Grossman was fortunately spared. Defending Stalin is not something you want to be doing, RBN people, not if you want to organize a revolution here. You will instead be spending your days rebutting everything Solzhenitsyn said. "He wasn't so bad," ruling in an era that gave us Hitler and the massacres of the Sino-Japanese War, is about the most you'll be able to say. Your best bet with him is to say "it is what it is."
4) The best call for revolution I've seen in THIS era is, once again, the one voiced by Cornelius Castoriadis:
I think we are at a crossroads in history, in History with a capital H. One path is now clearly marked, at least as for its general direction. That path leads to the loss of meaning, the repetition of empty forms, conformism, apathy, irresponsibility, and cynicism, along with the growing takeover of the capitalist imaginary of unlimited explosion of rational mastery” – pseudo-rational pseudo-mastery – of the unlimited expansion of consumption for consumption’s sake, which is to say for nothing, and of technoscience racing ahead on its own, and obviously a party to domination by that capitalist imaginary.
The other path would have to be opened up: it has not been marked out at all. Only a social and political awakening, a renaissance, a fresh opening up of the project of individual and collective autonomy – that is, of the will to be free – can cut that path. This would require an awakening of imagination and of the creative imaginary.
At any rate, Castoriadis' word on the Soviet scene is here.