Views in brief
Leninism’s roots in the U.S.
I APPRECIATE the sentiment expressed in Gabe Gabrielsky's letter of February 19, "Is Leninism alien to U.S. workers?"
I think that we would do well by his advice to U.S. radicals to recover the indigenous traditions of socialism. Unfortunately, his suggestion that this means we have to abandon all notions of Leninism as "less than meaningless" to the masses of U.S. workers does a great deal of violence to that tradition itself.
Gabrielsky writes, "Rather than Leninism...I think it makes more sense for American radical internationalists to look at the traditions of American radicalism and think of ourselves as Debsian, in the tradition of Eugene Debs." Debs, he writes, is more relevant to U.S. radicals despite the century that has passed since Debs' life. "It is rooted in the American experience and specifically in the experience of the American working class and of American experience."
I must admit to being perplexed by Gabrielsky's notion that Debs' socialism and Lenin's have to be counterposed. Am I thinking of the same Debs? The Debs I am thinking of deliberately aligned himself with Leninism and the Bolshevik Revolution, saying, "From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, I am a Bolshevik, and proud of it!" For more on Debs, see Brian Erway's article "Bolshevik and proud of it.")
Debs was only one of many great American revolutionaries to align themselves with the Bolshevik experience. Those who followed him would take on the arduous task of building a Leninist party that could accomplish a proletarian revolution in the United States.
We might think of John Reed, the author of Ten Days that Shook the World, who waged a relentless struggle within the early Communist Party of America to break the dominance of its foreign-language federations and introduce the leadership of the indigenous American working-class vanguard--also in direct contradiction to what Gabrielsky says about Leninism being necessarily foreign or irrelevant.
Surely the leaders of early American Trotskyism should also be reckoned among the pantheon of the indigenous working-class radical tradition: Farrell Dobbs, the leader of the Minneapolis Teamster rebellion, and Max Shachtman, the fiery orator and exponent of socialism from below. James Cannon, the leader of the American Socialist Workers Party, wrote gripping accounts of the early Communist and Trotskyist movements in the U.S., precisely to draw lessons about the practice of revolutionary socialism in the U.S. His book The Struggle for a Proletarian Party was written to deal with the application of Leninist practice in the U.S., which Gabrielsky denies is relevant.
Even the U.S. Communist Party and later the New Communist movement made significant contributions to the struggles for Black civil rights, women's liberation, labor struggles and more, although these were sometimes distorted by their Stalinist practice and forms of organization.
I could go on, but I think I've made my point: those who tried to make Leninism work in an American context have made invaluable contributions to radical change in America from 1917 onwards.
At its best, Leninism is not the set of tactics and organizational forms adopted to deal with the challenges of socialism in the Russian Empire of the early 20th century, as Gabrielsky assumes it is. Even Lenin during his own career realized that changing times in the empire required vastly different organizational forms and revolutionary tactics. This means that Leninism is a revolutionary method the application of which changes depending on different concrete realities.
If the history of Leninism in the U.S.--and everywhere else--in the 20th century shows us anything, it is that the failure to construct a revolutionary mass working-class party will end up wrecking the revolutionary upsurges and mass struggles that characterize every crisis of capitalism.
Generations of American revolutionaries have dedicated themselves to this task. We should be proud to stand in their tradition--and calling that tradition anything other than Leninist would do them a disservice.
Bill Crane, Washington, D.C.
Oppression, privilege and women's liberation
IN RESPONSE to "Soviet power and the status of women": This article by Lenin is fascinating, among other things because it highlights the legal quality of women in the Soviet state well before it existed in most of the "advanced" countries. The fact that most of those "advanced" countries ruled over most of Asia and Africa and elsewhere like dictators makes a mockery of any claims that they cared about democracy for anyone!
I'm responding, though, on the particular way that Lenin uses the term "privilege" here when he writes:
There cannot be, nor is there nor will there ever be "equality" between the oppressed and the oppressors, between the exploited and the exploiters. There cannot be, nor is there nor will there ever be real "freedom" as long as there is no freedom for women from the privileges which the law grants to men, as long as there is no freedom for the workers from the yoke of capital, and no freedom for the toiling peasants from the yoke of the capitalists, landlords and merchants.
The context of this article is Lenin's criticism of the hypocrisy of the West, which is why he insists here that no freedom for women is possible as long as men are granted privileges by law that women don't have. He's implying then that when the Soviet state granted full legal equality to women, such legal privileges for men disappeared.
But did other privileges remain, since patriarchy (by which I mean, the structure of women's oppression in the family) did not disappear? Did Lenin and other Bolsheviks--well aware that much work still had to be done--use a theory of "privilege" to understand the ongoing challenges of women's oppression? Or was it just a descriptive term to acknowledge the ongoing presence of social oppression?
I'm interested in this question as part of a larger effort to learn about how Marxists historically have understood women's oppression. Standard privilege theory (for example, "all men are privileged by the oppression of women") seems inadequate to me, and I subscribe to the Marxist understanding that all workers and ordinary people have a common material interest in battling social oppression (for example, that ordinary men have an interest in abolishing patriarchy).
However, I think it's possible to hold onto the Marxist idea while acknowledging "relative" or "situational" privilege. The fact that words like "privilege" always seem to pop up when reading the works of Lenin and others makes me wonder how they are using it.
Pranav Jani, Columbus, Ohio
Beaten by a Seattle cop
IN RESPONSE to "Brutal legacy of Seattle police": I am going to trial this week in King County court for "obstruction of justice." University of Washington police officer T. Pratt Wieburg took offence when I asked her if she was building security. I ended up with a severely torn shoulder and spine injuries and torn cartilage in my knee.
I have been off work since August 21 when this assault happened. I am a 50 percent disabled vet. I have had reconstructive surgery for my shoulder and I might not ever return to work.
My point is that they lie when they want to hurt people, or if they have injured, mamed or killed a person. So I'm now "guilty" until I prove my innocence and nothing happens to them for lying.
The end of Bread and Roses
IN RESPONSE to "Phasing out a dream": As regards the phasing out of Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School, I can't say I'm much surprised.
Bread and Roses has been fighting for its life since it was put together by a handful of progressive teachers--myself included--in the summer and fall of 1997. From the very beginning, the program had to fight for its life with the standards and testing crowd, which had some pretty stalwart supporters among its faculty way back when.
I remember our first arts instructor Andre Cotto saying at the time that Bread and Roses would have to make up its mind about whether it really wanted to take on the gang down at Livingston Street--that's where the old New York City school headquarters used to be in Brooklyn--or whether we were slowly going to lose a war of attrition with the standardization groupies.
The irony is that one of the current vice chancellors of New York public schools, Shael Polokow-Suransky, was also one of the founding faculty members at Bread and Roses. In fact, he was its first vice principal. If you ever want to see a striking example of how the Broad Superintendent Academy program can flip someone's thinking, look no further than Seransky.
And so it goes. My feeling is that SocialistWorker.org will be a lot more helpful in this regard when it breaks with the illusion that the education system formed by capital can be "pressured" out of its current trajectory. It's going to take a combative labor movement to break with the corporatization of public education, and we'll be a lot closer to having that agency when we break with all rose-colored lenses.
Michael Hureaux Perez, Seattle
Ending corporate "personhood"
Corporate exercise of never-intended constitutional rights is what has allowed expansion of corporations' ability to lobby and contribute to campaigns, own private property, lie or abstain from testifying in court, participate in "private" and therefore unregulated contracts, to exist into eternity, and to escape responsibility for wrongdoing, environmental destruction and death.
We must work, or support work, to create a Constitutional amendment that states clearly and unambiguously that Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.
Find out more and join us at MovetoAmend.org.
Susan Gaydos, Euclid, Ohio