Why the Leninists Will Win
The following article was written by a radical in the United
States last summer. Although it deals with a different context,
we felt that it raised problems and situations that have relevance
for us here in Canada too. So we reprint the article here as a contribution
to the discussion that many of us are engaging in at the present
We anarchists and Syndicalists - indeed all who believe that the
liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves
- were too poorly organized and too weak to hold the revolution
on a straight course towards socialism.
- M. Sergven in the Moscow anarchist newspaper Vol'nyi Golos
Truda, Sept. 16, 1918
Most of the Russian Anarchists themselves were unfortunately still
in the messes of limited group activities and of individualistic
endeavour as against the more important social and collective efforts.
. . honesty and sincerity compel me to state that their work would
have been of infinitely greater practical value had they been better
organized and equipped to quide the released energies of the people
towards the reorganization of life on a libertarian foundation.
- Emma Goldman, My Disillusionment in Russia, 1925
The idea that capitalism in its present form in the United States
will not endure is hardly to be disputed anywhere. The capitalist
class itself debates only the precise mixture of state capitalism,
social democracy, and fascism that will best serve to maintain and
expand their own power and profits.
That debate is, of course, reflected in Leninist circles. While
some maneuver for potential advantage in a developing social democracy,
others are busy learning the skills of underground terrorism and
urban guerilla warfare. The fortunes of there various groups will
ebb and flow with the developing consensus of the capitalist class.
Thus, barring a major nuclear war, we face two possible futures.
One, which I think less likely, would see a major uprising against
a fascist tyranny, an uprising led by the political descendents
of the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army etc.
The other future, which seems more likely to me, would feature the
electoral victory of a broad coalition that would have evolved from
groups we know today as the Communist Party, October League, Revolutionary
Communist Party, Socialist Workers Party, etc.
In a sense most important to us, of course, both futures would be
identical: the working class would have no substantive political
and economic power. There would be a lot of speeches about the working
class, a lot of red flags flying, a lot of statues of Marx and Engels.
There might (or might not) be some improvements in the conditions
of ordinary working people. But there would be no real freedom.
As the rock song of several years ago put it: "Say hello to
the new boss: it's the same as the old boss!"
But what about us? How will the presence of those who believe that
"the liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves"
affect these two futures of Leninist victory?
Therein, as it is said, lies a tale.
About ten months ago (October 1975) 1 decided to move to the San
Francistco Bay Area from New Orleans. I had spent a number of years
working in a very small anarcho-communist collective (usually less
than six people), and it seemed likely to me that nothing bigger
was going to come along in New Orleans for longer than I wanted
One thing I expected to find here was a much higher level of class
consciousness among ordinary working people than was (is) the case
in New Orleans. I was not disappointed. There are always
thousands of workers on strike here. Frequently they side-step their
"leadership" and engage in militant struggle. One can
even get occasional glimpses of a kind of primitive socialist consciousness.
But I also expected to find a large number (several hundreds) of
people who understood anarcho-communist politics and who were eager
to implement those politics in mass struggles. In my more hopeful
moments, I saw the possibility of beginning to build a real movement
for workers' councils, starting in the Bay Area and spreading across
Of course, why should I expect this? It's not true anyplace else.
I have to admit that there was a sizable hunk of romanticism in
my "thinking" on this matter. The Bay Area was one of
the hotbeds of student radicalism during the 1960's. I had seen
some of the pamphlets published by the neo-Situationist groups in
the early 1970's, and I assumed these Berkeley-based groups had
been steadily growing. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it
seemed overwhelmingly obvious that given the class consciousness
of ordinary working people in the Bay Area, even a small but active
anarcho-communist group would quickly grow towards becoming a movement,
constantly expanding, recruiting new people, launching new projects,
showing up in the midst of every struggle with our basic idea: only
the working class can liberate the working class!
Well, I found the anarchists, anarcho-communists, libertarian socialists,
etc., if not by the hundreds at least by the score. I attended one
meeting with more than 50 people present and a number of others
with from 30 to 40 people present. Not bad for a start, right?
This would be a much easier article to write if I could just say
that all those I met were simply assholes. Unfortunately, with only
a few exceptions, they aren't assholes. They are people that anyone
with our political views would be delighted to work with.
Except that that is the most amazing and sorrowful fact of the matter.
The practical definitions of "political work" that I encountered
among various libertarians here were simply stunning in their manifest
Or perhaps my own understanding is simply too primitive. I think
of political work, whatever form it takes, as something we do in
order to win over millions of working people (our sisters and brothers)
to the idea that we should all run our own lives. It is, or ought
to be, clear that both elements are equally important: mass movements,
no matter how massive, that are not libertarian will not liberate
us; our ideas, no matter how libertarian, will not liberate us
unless shared with millions of working people.
Instead, I heard arguments like these:
"Who needs a movement anyway? What we really need are more
small affinity groups, a few close comrades operating on common
politics and trust in each other. That's the only real egalitarian
politics; big movements are authoritarian by their very nature."
If mass movements are authoritarian by their very nature, if we
cannot build an egalitarian mass movement, then we are simply
doomed. Small groups will never overthrow capitalism. Instead, the
Leninists will do it and we will always live under some form of
"Hell, it's not up to us to liberate the workers
any more than it's up to the Leninists. The deepening of the current
economic crisis will convince the workers that they must liberate
themselves, without any help from us."
What is it up to us to do? Is our role that of merely sitting
back and commenting on the latest trends in the economy? When we
say that the workers must liberate themselves, do we include ourselves
in that phrase?
"We cannot build a movement at all. Movements are built
by millions of workers when they want to build them: a small group
can't just command such a movement into existence."
It's true that movements by definition are built by millions of
working people. But was there ever a movement that didn't begin
when a small group decided it was time to begin?
"We can't simply go out and build a libertarian communist
movement. First we should spend a year or two developing a common
theory and building trust in each other."
How many times does it still have to be repeated: revolutionary
theory comes only from revolutionary practice. Trust come
only from mutual experience in common struggle.
"Anyway, we don't have to rush into building a united libertarian
organization. It's not as if the Leninists are about to take over.
They're always squabbling among themselves, committing one blunder
after another, hah, hah."
One thing I've noticed out here: the libertarians all take endless
delight in the blunders of the Leninists. Now go back and read the
quotations at the beginning of this article: who had the last
laugh in Russia?
"We should not publish a mass anarcho-communist newspaper
in the Bay Area. It's too much work and besides, there's already
a dozen left papers out here."
That is, we should scorn to reach working people with our ideas
because we'd have to work hard to do it and, anyway it's not necessary
since the Leninists are already reaching people with their ideas.
That is what the libertarians in the Bay Area say; this is what
they do: revolutionary psychotherapy, revolutionary computer programming,
revolutionary book store, revolutionary radio, revolutionary film-making,
revolutionary camping out at Lake Tahoe. revolutionary trips to
Europe, and. most importantly, revolutionary study groups.
There may be dozens of these groups. some more serious in their
studies than others. But they share a common pattern of social invisibility,
They are, by and large, closed to new members as a matter of policy.
Thus, even if a new person became interested in our politics and
(somehow!) found out that one of these groups existed, they wouldn't
be allowed to join. (!)
The reader will not be surprised, then, to learn that nothing
is presently being done to build an anarcho-communist movement in
the Bay Area. One naturally hopes that this will not always be the
case, but it will be as long as the libertarians here resolutely
refuse to accept their political responsibilities!
It is nothing but ego-puffing drivel to call oneself an anarchist,
anarcho-communist. libertarian socialist. etc. and then sit back
and wait for working people "out there" to liberate us.
It is nothing but revolutionary nose-picking to sit back and wait
for the capitalist class to arrange a convenient crisis and then
give up its state power to the working class. It is positively criminal
when we, knowing full well the intentions of the Leninists, do nothing
except make wise-cracks while they gradually learn enough to take
over from the old capitalist class and re-establish class society
on a new and much more terrible foundation!
The grim truth of the matter is that when (not if. when)
the present form of capitalism in this country is overthrown, the
Leninists will win ... unless we overcome our own folly of fragmentation,
passivity, and disorganization. The Leninists will win ... unless
we develop confidence in our own abilities to organize a mass anarcho-communist
movement. The Leninists will win ... unless we ourselves accept
the responsibility of fighting to win!
Published in Volume 2, Number 1 of The
Red Menace, Summer 1977.
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