Jamie Woodcock writes on a session at Marxism 2013 on Bolshevism.
Sai Englert led off a meeting on “Study circles, revolution and reaction: the Bolsheviks before 1917” this morning. He focused on the growth of the Russian socialist tradition and the building of a revolutionary organisation before 1917.
He traced how study circles developed into a revolutionary party. Lenin’s method of “bending the stick” – focusing attention and energy on a particular task – encouraged this process. When different limitations became clear, it was necessary to “bend the stick the other way” – refocus energies on the next necessary task, correct the error and move forward.
The use of this method highlights Lenin’s conception of organisation; not as a recipe book that can be applied in an ahistorical or universal way, but rather as something based on the concrete political necessities that face revolutionaries in different contexts. Its strength comes from the application of Marx to the question of organisation. Sai stressed that for Lenin the organisational form was never an end in itself.
Speakers from the floor spoke of the importance of this debate for the current arguments inside the party. The points of the debate focused around what can be learned from Lenin, the different interpretations of flexibility, and the changing conditions and political task of today.
This was the first meeting in a course on the history of Bolshevism that will hopefully be the start of a crucial debate on Leninism in the 21st century.
Note: This piece was published before rs21 was established as an independent organisation in January 2014. rs21 was founded by a group of people who had been in the opposition within the SWP and who left in response to its persistent mishandling of rape and sexual harassment allegations against a leading member.