1. Why should we pay attention to the tendencies of a now obsolete bourgeois faction of social managers when the ascendency of the bourgeoisie itself has been reversed by the automated subject?
It’s not worth getting involved, it’s not worth arguing it. But if somehow we were to be drawn into involvement, and if we did have to argue it out, then we would have to defend ourselves as best we could, and we’d need something beyond our natural revulsion at authoritarianism with which to respond to the attacks.
2. What is the level of threat posed by the Leninists?
There are two answers here, and which is applicable depends on circumstance. When in power, and power here refers to everything from state government to the running of protection rackets within national liberation movements, Leninism is lethal - it will always find a reason to destroy its rivals. In practice, the logic of Leninism tends towards establishing its monopoly on terror over the ‘insurgent’ population that it purportedly represents. However, minus guns and the repressive apparatuses of the state, Leninists are a different proposition. In their pre-power form, the harm they are able to inflict is severely limited. They will infiltrate and disrupt weakly defended or incoherent oppositionist organisations, and they may denounce and inform on rivals, sometimes they will monomaniacally push the agenda of foreign states, but they only become truly dangerous in a context of open class struggle where they are committed to the line of statism (that is revolutionary reformism) against autonomous activity. They are certainly prepared to take advantage of any tolerance shown to them whilst not reciprocating. In answer to your question, as a sort of broad guide, the threat posed by Leninists to those opposing the state is worse than that of petit capitalists, not as bad as the police, and about the same as fascists or religious fundamentalists.
3. But aren’t there any good Leninists?
Firstly, although we have succumbed to it, we should feel uneasy about assigning general attributes to a personalised group. It is like talking of ‘diabetics’ when referring to those suffering from diabetes, the emphasis is reductive and located in the wrong place. Agency should be attributed to the ideology rather than to those feebly caught in its surface tension. When we talk about Leninists, really we are referring to Leninism (which has the accumulated force of history behind it); what is in dispute is not so much the type of individuals involved as the effect of the Leninist heuristic on their capacity to act as human beings.
4. Isn’t comparing Leninism with an affliction even more reductive and prejudicial than listing the traits of Leninist personality types?
We should examine both! Let’s not imagine that Leninism somehow fully possesses the values that it agitates for, or that its programme articulates ‘Leninist’ ideas. That would already assume it has achieved the identity of subject and object in history. The critique of Leninism should begin from the assumption that it is an ideology of the managerial faction of the bourgeois class and that as such is a miscellany of banal conventionalities and realist ex post-facto rationalisations. In practice, Leninism is a chronic instrumentalising-type affliction that affects the subject’s capacity for self-reflexive orientation within its environment. The myth of the historic Party, a myth embraced by supporters and opponents, is that it is the author of its own activities, that it is a maker of history. In reality, the Party lags behind productive relations and is reduced to projecting just another set of post-jacobin ideals onto the entirety of social relations. Its programme extends the inherited logic of the labour process into its reduction of communism to useful work. Leninism cannot escape the Nineteenth Century fetishism of work as morally necessary for all - and as such remains a tightly constrained phenomenon of its times: the ideal of the labour republic appears as a political project exactly at the juncture capital supersedes workerism through the expulsion of living labour from the productive apparatus.
5. To return to the comments on a sort of automated heuristic operational within Leninist versions of subjectivity…
Procedurally, Leninism is driven by a simple confirmation bias common to all millenarian consciousness - external signs both confirm the initial prophecies and justify the measures taken to implement them. The corollary of this bias is that any non-deniable failures and errors are projected onto ‘enemies’ and punished on the grounds of ‘sabotage’. The trap is sprung by the idea that the revolutionary subject will possess both awareness of the necessity for change and the capacity to implement it. This is a common enough formulation amongst revolutionaries emphasising praxis and ‘participation’ (revolutionary self-theory for example) but non-Leninists also assume an ‘other’ component within subjectivity by which the revolutionary subject is recognised as a force exceeding the revolutionaries’ own ideas and activities - for the ‘libertarian’ communist, the subject is not ‘us’ but others. What separates the Leninists from the rest is their identification of the ideal of the revolutionary subject with their own organisational structures. From this presumption, the Leninist party assumes it has the capacity, and the historical authority, to resolve social contradictions - in other words, Leninism is structurally resistant to reality-testing, and is fated always to spiral into a sequence of affirmational interventions increasingly at odds with its circumstance (the precise definition of psychosis).
6. Should we return to the question of whether personality type is relevant?
Again, there are two basic categories when considering those involved in repressive liberationist ideologies: the organisers and the organised. Of the latter, there are any number of reasons to unwittingly join Leninist projects; these are the foot-soldiers, and placard wavers, who will chant mind-numbing banalities for their own subjugation as if these articulated the precise requirements of their freedom. For the personality type we may categorise as the ‘organised’, the standard syndrome of disciplinary industrialised socialisation applies: deference to bureaucratic process; abstraction of motivational principle; internalisation of the estrangement of means from ends; displacement of personal life-trauma into an ideological framing; regimentation of relations and behaviours; elevation of self-sacrifice as a moral indicator; hard work as evidence for a project’s worth; submission to the rudimentary imperative of espirit de corps and the closed ranks of the in-group; cult of personality; narcissism of small difference; sectarianism; deferral of self interest; exteriorisation of theoretical difficulties onto perceived ‘enemies’; identification with the interest of the leadership function. The organised members of Leninist organisations are afflicted with the same weaknesses as the rest of humanity, but their fault lies in having developed this to an explicit ideal which is actively sought out and adhered to. Anyone utilising Leninist iconography or symbolism affirmatively shines an interrogators’ desk-lamp into their own corner of hell.
7. What of the category described as ‘organiser’?
It is difficult to imagine any individual rising through the Leninist hierarchy who is not a sociopath. There is nothing more to be said on the matter. However, a general observation can be made on why the broad adjective ‘Leninist’ should become a designated noun for a particular form of consciousness. There is a basic category error present in the thinking of all those who self-identify with a historical individual; the use of the adjective/noun amalgam ‘marxism’ as a brand-name for communism is extremely problematic in that it continually self-corrects its practical/theoretical resources on the basis of in-group/out-group prejudices around allegiance to the authority of the father-brand. And whilst this constriction of available material for conscious reflection resembles the effects of genetic drift on island populations, it also instigates a degenerative spiral of deferral to the inherited authority of a single Mosaic-like lineage. What level of self-denying wretchedness would cause an individual to fetishistically self-identify, beyond a vague reference, as a ‘marxist’? We should note here that the regressive tendency within ‘marxist’ organisations to the idealisation of personalised authority - the cult of the father imago finds its negative corollary in Lenin’s famously puritanical phrase, ‘greasy from many lips’.
8. How do Leninists organise, what pressure are they able to bring to bear to persuade others of their arguments.
i. The art of Leninist persuasion is grounded in the exploitation of a prepared ground, or the basic predispositions, of those who have developed politicised consciousness. The framework of argumentation is built from a perpetually bifurcating set of either/or imperatives which itself is framed within a pragmatic consensus around the necessary separation of the desired end from the means that must be deployed to achieve it. The combination of conventional NIneteenth Century gambits derived from consequentialist ethics, and the decomposition of such strategies into the permanent deferrals of realpolitik where the presentation of stark and incompatible alternatives has the degrading effect of producing a subjective psychological predisposition that we might term Emergency-realism. And by emergency-realism, we may understand the pressure brought to bear on members for their consent to decisions already made on the grounds that any delay of ratification will seriously compromise the Party, the Revolution, the Future, the work of world history itself. Leninism did not invent catastrophism as a means for political galvanisation, but it was the first to electrify it. The persuader/organiser seeks to persuade/organise the rank and file according to a well-established procedure: if you are serious about wanting to change the world, you have to consider it from a grown up and realistic perspective; grown-up thinking around social transformation inevitably involves acknowledging, and even embracing, the forces that are integral to transformation; social forces are violently coercive, and may be controlled only by disciplined consciousness; social revolution is nothing but good people doing bad things for a great purpose. Dirty hands is the cost of every effective policing operation.
ii. Only those responsive to persuasion and organisation may be persuaded and organised. A shared perspective on revolutionary agency is the basic channel for the redundancy between ‘the transmitter’ leadership position and ‘the receiver’ position of the cadre. Ironically, those most vulnerable to the specifically Leninist orchestration of repressive consciousness, those most suggestible to the dictatorship of the apparat, are also independent thinkers. Just as heroin addicts, seeking to block out their sensitivities, are often the most sensitive of souls, so the free-roaming contemplative tends to take up residence, resolving unbearable contradictions, in the exoskeleton of disciplinarian activism. We tend to look for objective resolution of those difficulties which we sense subjectively (… remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done). The individual’s introjection of Leninist principles is just another means for suppressing, diverting, obliterating pre-existing existential trauma. And those most able to change their minds (and what is it to change one’s mind in response to persuasion?), those most able to adjust and adjust again and again to instruction, information, command, are also those most able to go along with outlandish ideological distortions. It is well documented that the authoritarian personality (by which we identify a willingness to be directed by authority) responds to the most powerful and most recent command, and vacillates eternally politically between ‘left’ and ‘right’. The internalised discipline of a previous ideological allegiance is easily transferred, according to a mode of serial monogamy, to the requirements of the next.
iii. The apparat institutionalises the subject’s almost irresistible desire to displace agency and responsibility via bureaucratic systems of dispersible and deflection, which in turn result in established defences such as ‘superior orders’, collective responsibility, ‘deniability’ and so on. Leninism introduces historical necessity and class struggle, as professed principle and rational motive, into the place otherwise taken by referents such as nation or god - but the subjective component, the faith, the patriotism, the pride, the willingness to take risks are all ideological constants and perfectly transferable between ideologies. The standard corporate rationalisation proceeds: whilst specific individuals do make decisions, they are only expressing their conditions and are driven by their circumstance; therefore, ‘bourgeois’ morality does not apply and the individuals cannot be considered accountable (unless they have ‘betrayed’ the party whereupon they are subjected to summary liquidation). The perpetual shifting of responsibility for crimes utilised as a strategy for committing further crimes, is one of the defining characteristics of totalitarian formations. However, the purpose of the ‘defence of superior orders’, its derivatives and equivalents is not to shield the guilty but to defend, by misdirectional nitpicking, the integrity and continuity of the corporate structure itself.
9. How might this apparatus of persuasion work?
It begins from the insistence that because the Whites/Fascists/Imperialists/Capitalists as an indefatigable enemy, will stop at nothing that it is necessary for all to submit to revolutionary discipline. It is because the gains of the revolution are in danger that it is necessary to execute the anarchists. It is necessary to temporarily suspend some of the gains of the revolution because saboteurs and wreckers are operating within the workers’ councils. It is necessary for the Party to take command because of the underdeveloped class consciousness of the workers
10. What social forces are involved in producing Leninism as an expression of the counter-revolution that takes the form of the revolution?
As the question implies, the convolutions of Leninism (its perversity) indicates the confluence of multiple strands of history. Leninism is the name of the revolutionary state, or rather the perfection of the state’s incorporation of the concept of revolution. It is, if not in its brute utterances, then in its formation, a highly complex organism that supposes the historical trajectory of an arms race between power and powerlessness. It is a strategy of the ruling class to mirror, capture and turn to its own advantage, the language and ideals of its own overthrow. The management of social revolution is both the technique and goal of the bourgeoisie. But just as a predator, at the climax of the kill, may itself fall prey to a greater predator… so the instrumentalising logic of the bourgeoisie is caught in the act by a greater instrumentalisation. The tendency to rationalisation of production for the social good, as espoused by late-jacobins like the Bolshevik party, is compelled to take one step further to rationalisation: production rationalised for production’s sake (production stripped of the fetter of use). The totalitarian logic of 20th century automation inevitably leads to the expulsion of human beings from society which is later conceived as the unending and frictionless flowing together of immanent forces of production - societies and cities expelling populations and replacing them with automata is a characteristic of mass society. The mess of humanity is supplanted by perfected representations of humanity. The equation of liberated social forces with human emancipation is the peculiar contribution of marxism to history… marxism is the theory, and Leninism its agent, of the bourgeoisie’s own sublation by the productive forces it has unleashed. This is what Buchner meant, in referring to revolution’s positive feedback: like Saturn, it devours its own children.
11. But what are the actual procedures of the bourgeoisie’s self-negation, and its turn to Leninism as the crisis form of technocratic governance?
The nature of the bourgeoisie’s historic defeat of the aristocracy is derived from its management of representations. The rise of the bourgeoisie corresponds to the appearance of representation as a form of social mediation. And representation, as an organisational principle, only occurs in relation to the simplification of social relations resulting from a step-change in the accumulated mass of production forces. This so-called step-change produces a societal responsiveness to, and self-recognition within, a system of universalising abstraction by which all things (and all collections of things) may be ‘represented’ as units within a command-structure combining economy and social interactions. The shift into representation itself emerges from the accumulation of all historical modes of power as these coalesce in their representation, or strategic deployment, by a single power. Representation is, on the abacus of powers, the greatest order resulting from the combination of all possible lesser orders. In achieving an escape from the self-limited perspectivism of narrative, depiction, portrayal, and all forms of ‘local’ power, representation returns to the material world as a whirling abstraction. As it touches ground it sucks all things into its maelstrom and throws them into an unprecedented order of relating whereby each thing experiences both itself and the other as an abstract value. This transformation from thingness into abstracted materiality, from the immediate to the mediated, from the placed to universality, from stories to accounting, from animism to monotheism, from fiefdoms to the state, from humans to workers, from stations to classes, also correlates with the transfer of power, as marxists theorise it, from direct forms of repression to indirect forms of exploitation. The liberation of human relations from the real concrete into the abstract concrete indicates the transformation of domination from revealed repression to concealed exploitation. Representation is the outcome of the tendency within systems of accumulation to produce real abstractions - that is, abstractions that may return to the world and control it. In contradistinction to state ideology, the movement into abstraction does not indicate increasing sophistication or progressive complexity but the opposite: the reduction of all things to their willingness to be represented. Abstraction elaborates, which is itself a representation of complexity, but the domain in which such complexity unfolds is of a single form. The movement of accumulated productive forces into a system of abstracted equivalence (accounting) and its return to the world of things as a set of commands utilising the language of representation supposes the earlier violent simplifying of human relations and its environment (the collapse of bio-diversity is the result of the failure of representation to account for the needs of multiple species). The later form of exploitation supposes an earlier mode of repression by which populations are conditioned to respond to a constrained set of command signs. Representation as a system of mediated relations through abstracted signs is not possible without an earlier stage of violent simplification flowing from the accumulation of privately expropriated wealth. In short, representation is the conditioned responsiveness of a post-repressive environment to the commands contained within the values abstracted from it.
12. How does the apparatus of abstract commands appear as the politics of Leninism?
This concerns the question of reproduction, and reproduction only appears as a question at that historical juncture where the expansion of the labour market in line with the elaboration of the productive apparatus becomes an object for state intervention. Of course, there had been factory villages and industrial towns but the state’s population-wide rationalisation of the organs of social reproduction took social planning to another level. Before 1914, the reserve of workers and productive forces expanded more or less in tandem, but this expansion necessarily occurred in a contingent and haphazard arrangement. By the second decade of the C20th, the accumulation of productive forces gave rise to the possibility of the state’s strategic manufacture of labour power as a commodity - at this point the state became a monopoly producer of human beings and began to apply industrial principles of mass production to populations. Added to the defence of territory, and national capital, the state took on the new role of generating (or reproducing) workers as a specific and uniform type (workers raised as workers). Leninism became one of the several competing strategies for producing workers via state intervention which the bourgeoisie were experimenting with from 1914 onwards. The specific function of the Leninist iteration was to produce a ‘for-itself’ workforce, a historically adjusted and self-identifying proletariat whose second nature was fanatical devotion to use-value. The Leninist ‘republic of labour’ is the state’s dream of frictionless work, of work minus class warfare, and of the boundless proliferation of material wealth.
13. What is the philosophical background to Leninism?
The distinction between mere opinion and true knowledge is historically hard-programmed into Western consciousness. Leninism utilises its inheritance of the distinction as a means to separate its historically determined representation of the working class and the false consciousness of actual workers. Whilst Plato was the first to formally separate opinion from knowledge, it was Rousseau who applied the categories politically. His distinction of ‘general will’ from ‘will of all’ would become the ideological basis for every strategic pretext deployed by the modern state. The Bolshevik government was the first in modern history to exploit the space between Rousseau’s ‘general will’ and ‘will of all’ but the proliferation of mass-media representation soon transformed it from a trope of avant-gardism into a common enough establishment manoeuvre for justifying any measure taken. The distinction between the interest of the representation (as an autonomous function with its own set of interests) and the interest of the thing represented became a standard of C20th statecraft. It is this distinction that specifically articulates the strategic use of the representation of victories not yet achieved to secure credit on further expansion of the state’s reach, a mode of fictitious capital which Debord later identified as the ‘concentrated spectacle’. The Bolshevik’s problem, which they attempted to resolve by utilising the identity mechanism of representation, appeared as a divergence between the ‘will of the people’ and the ‘people’s will’, or more specifically as the divergence of the workers councils from the Bolsheviks’ representation of the working class. The difficulty of sovereignty as this was expressed in the antagonism between the institution of the councils and within the institutional nexus of the state and the general populace, could only be resolved repressively and yet had to be rationalised as a movement that was both revolutionary and recuperative. How could the suppression of the organs of the working class be presented as a revolutionary strategy? Part of the answer, as examined above, lay in the utilisation of the process of representation, and thus of the abstraction of values from the bodies they are made to represent. Philosophers do not prescribe but may only contemplate what is already at work in the world, and so Rousseau barely theorised the question of sovereignty but by separating the abstract value located in ‘the general will’ (what would later be wielded as the ‘people’s will’ in summary trials) from that of the aggregate of opinion identified as ‘the will of all’ (that is the distinction established between unified momentum of class interest and the divergent collection of private opinion), he established the basis for justifying the measures taken by every national liberationist movement to suppress the population it represents. Terror is utilised against the people by The People’s representatives on the grounds that people cannot recognise themselves historically. The village has to be destroyed to save The Village. Certainly, only the representatives of The People are able to identify and express The People’s Will, all other identifications and expressions become subversive distractions (opinion and not knowledge) by which people become untethered from The People. By definition, Leninism is the state’s direct suppression of the workers’ councils in the name of representing the workers’ councils and according to its slogan, ‘all power to the workers’ councils.’
14. But aren’t we all on the same side? Don’t we have a common enemy?
The idea, all differences are minor, is persuasive. The sentiment, there is always more uniting than dividing ‘us’, is compelling. The proposal that controversies should be settled ‘after the revolution’ seems cogent. Under conditions of retreat, and there are no other conditions, splinters and factions seem like indulgence in an unaffordable luxury, a waste of meagre resources, when a greater threat is looming ever closer. But let’s be clear here, Leninism is a system of inherited commands based on the authority of already written texts and the lineage of their authors, every engagement with Leninism in the present must also engage a history which it only disavows in its fetishism of the non-continuity between Lenin and Stalin. In order to work in common cause with Leninists today, the history of Leninism has to be forgotten, and given that Leninism is precisely the continuation of its history undisavowed into the present, common cause with Leninists supposes a willed capacity to not know Leninism, and to forget precisely what it is. The function of anti-fascism for example is to instigate the willed forgetting of Leninist history in order to make common cause against a supposed greater enemy (the function of anti-fascism has become that of forgetting the function of anti-fascism which is the capture of anarchists by Leninism). Leninists don’t even recognise anarchism, they have no idea what it is… at best they consider it a pre-Leninist disposition waiting for the right leadership. Leninists assume that anarchists are ‘Bakuninists’ and are dependent upon a similar set of deferential relations as Marxists. For this reason, Leninists will always invoke either Bakunin’s anti-semitism or Goldman’s Zionism as proof of underlying traits within anarchism. In practice, there is no common ground and no common enemy. What divides ‘anarchism’ from ‘Leninism’ is a fundamental incompatibility and not a surface level misunderstanding. Whilst there is something (not much perhaps these days) to be recommended in anarchism (a consistency and logic of opposition to all existing forms) there is nothing emancipatory in Leninism whatsoever. Leninism is merely the bourgeoisie’s formal sublation of revolutionary tendencies within the state-capitalist mechanism of representation - historically, it is almost indistinguishable from fascism.
15. Doesn’t this position of blaming Leninists merely replicate conventional defence mechanisms of exteriorisation?
Leninism, like fascism, is a designation for a set of more or less comprehensible political traits generated by productive forces… neither Leninism nor fascism are wholly contained within defined Leninist or fascist organisations but are generally distributed (or recuperated/expropriated by all modern political tendencies). Both Leninism and fascism are subsets of the nexus between the repressive apparatus of the greater modern state and the ideology (or the desire) of mass populations for and of the ‘authoritarian.’ We may talk of ‘Leninism’ as if it were reducible to a specific tendency of Marxism but really we are applying a placeholder term to a general love of the authoritarian and the political identification of many with their representations. For this reason, we must also acknowledge that anarchism constantly decays into Leninism and thus into bourgeois politics, particularly as it seeks to establish a pragmatic or movement building approach. It is in this inevitable decadence that it comes to deny its own character. The only revolutionary significance of the specific tradition of Leninism is as a reminder of what happens when anarchism fails. Luckily, all anarchist organisations are failures and, having no equivalent patriarchal authority or founder-figure to Marx, it will perpetually renew in line with its rediscovery amongst new adherents. Where Marxism is a system of memorising universalising commands, anarchism is a therapeutic technique or procedure for forgetting and disavowal of what went before. The self-separation of anarchists from each other defines the principle of anarchism itself. And the basic principle of anarchism can be learnt in a few minutes (there is nothing more to it than its basic principle). Anarchists are never more anarchist than in the moment of their first encountering the idea, which occurs as a movement away from other anarchists. But anarchism is also the history of anarchists attempting to escape their basic principle. Very often, they are actually more, not less, tolerant of Leninism (that is they identify more strongly with a tradition of repressive state power and militarised mass murder) than they are of ‘nihilist communism’ - and the reason for this is that both anarchists and Leninists share a similar ‘what is to be done’ realist aesthetic which is always about to subsume the emancipatory within the interest of the egalitarian. There is a tendency within anarchism, as with all things belonging to the world, towards becoming mediated by representation. By identifying this tendency, we also make out the fundamental incompatibility between anarchism and Leninism at the level of social process and why there can be no common cause except where the libertarian has been captured by the authoritarian in the name of equality. Anarchism in operation is defined by its anticipation and prevention of the tendency towards abstraction in social organisations, a tendency which is instituted wherever representation mediates communal relations. Classically, anarchism has attempted to ward off representation (the domination of relations by an abstracting apparatus) through ad hoc procedures of delegation. The separation between delegation and representation will not be discussed here but as a working definition: delegates are selected from the group by the group to effect relations with other groups, whilst a representative is extracted from a group according to the formal requirement of governing structures to mediate relations between groups. Clearly, delegation tends always to the formal and thus also perpetually slips into representation (and sometimes, in moments of dislocation, representation will discover in itself vestigial traits of delegation). And more complicatedly, delegation may also be represented, a representative may appear as a delegate, as a tyrant may appear as a revolutionary. In other words, representation has the capacity to both represent its own critique, and other methods of relating, and other forms of power, and thus subsumes the alternatives to representation within the mechanism of representation (as an example, art has attempted to attack art but in the process has only produced more art). Even so, the distinction between the set of relations that produce representation and those that are expressed in delegation is real and decisive at the level of shared undertakings. It becomes truly significant when considering, for example, how workers’ councils were to integrate within wider social relations. Similarly, anarchism has also extended its interest in warding off state-forms by studying other systems (such as ‘potlatch’ and reverse domination hierarchy) that have successfully prevented the unstable accumulation of quantities of material wealth from calcifying into abstract command structures by which the state form emerges from internal relations.