The Lenin debate (2012) was a series of articles and replies that began in February 2012 following a review by Pham Binh[1] (former ISO member and runs [2]) of Tony Cliff's 1975 biography reissued in 2010 of Lenin[2]. It revolves around whether the Bolshevik party was to permit factions and whether it was a party of the new type. It was conducted in Weekly Worker[3] (CPGB-PCC publication), Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal[4], various blogs, Platypus conference and Communist University.


In 2008, Lars T. Lih published Lenin Rediscovered[5]. In 2011 Pham Binh had written a guest post at Louis Proyect[6]. Also in 2011, Lars T. Lih had published a 235 page book called Lenin: Critical Lives[7].


Pham Binh[8] Paul D'Amato (ISO)[9] Pham Binh reply to Paul D'Amato (ISO)[10] Lars T. Lih[11]


James Turley (CPGB-PCC)[12]

... If there is one relatively clear political implication of Pham's intervention, it seems to be that Lenin was "an orthodox Kautsykist" and that the distinction between Second International reformism (associated with Kautsky and the SPD) and early Third International revolutionary politics (associated with Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Lenin) is historically inaccurate. But I have a hard time seeing how any good comes from blurring the line between the trajectory of the late Second International and the trajectory of the revolutionary energy running through the development of figures such as Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Gramsci. Was Lenin an avid "Kautskyist" in some sense at one point in his development? Sure. So was Rosa Luxemburg, who initially moved to Germany with the aim of building Kautsky's SPD. But what matters for socialists today is when, where, and why he (and, for that matter, Trotsky, Luxemburg and others) broke with Kautsky, and why they thought it necessary to build an entirely new international. What matters today is how events like the 1917 October Revolution were organized and what we can learn from them. (The errors and ultimate defeat of the German Revolution are similarly important to study and understand here). I don't see how this goal is advanced by muddying the waters so much that Lenin and Kautsky appear to us today as pals. ...
Pink Scare[13] Lenin and the Marxist Left after Occupy talk by Ben Lewis at Platypus[14] Wanting to Get Lenin Wrong, Pham Binh[15]


Paul Le Blanc (ISO), The Birth of the Bolshevik Party in 1912[16]


A Faction is not a party, Lars T. Lih[17].


Lars T. Lih wrote Bolshevism and Revolutionary Social Democracy[18]


SPGB spoke at Communist University 2012 on Martov's Conception of Bolshevism. Paul Le Blanc (ISO) spoke at Communist University 2012[19].


Interpretation of the Nature of the Bolshevik Party Party of the Old Type Party of the New Type 1903-
Faction rights CPGB-PCC, Lars T. Lih, Pham Binh Platypus (Chris Cutrone)
Faction-free SPGB SWP/IST, ISO, IBT


Bolshevism as Faction-freeEdit

Bolshevism as Faction-free Party of the Old TypeEdit

The Menshevik Conception of Bolshevism[20] and Bolshevism not to be supported.

Bolshevism as Faction-free Party of the New TypeEdit


Paul Le Blanc


Building the Party (1975) Tony Cliff

Tony Cliff (IST) Paul D'Amato (ISO) and Paul Le Blanc (ISO).

... How odd it would be, one century after the fact, to hear the following over the air waves: NEWS FLASH! THE BOLSHEVIKS BECAME A POLITICAL PARTY IN 1912! In fact, it was the opposite “news” that flashed across a little corner of the internet’s far-left end. A young activist in the US socialist movement, Pham Binh, making positive reference to the outstanding contributions of historian Lars Lih in challenging myths regarding Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s revolutionary organisational perspectives, advanced his own challenging re-interpretation of Lenin’s thought and practice, claiming to have exploded “the myth that the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks separated into two parties in 1912.”

Admittedly Pham’s primary purpose was not to open new pathways in Lenin scholarship, but to enhance the theoretical-historical legitimacy of a proposed pathway in the struggles of today: the idea that socialists (including those seeing themselves as “Leninists”) should merge into a single organisation despite significant political differences, since – contrary to various myths – this is the sort of thing that Lenin himself thought and said and did. I critically engaged with Pham, on practical political grounds but also in defence of the traditional notion that the Bolsheviks did, in fact, become a separate party in 1912.[2] Without necessarily sharing his activist agenda, Lars Lih proceeded to weigh in, quite generously (though with far greater nuance) on the side of Pham’s re-interpretation of the 1912 events. ...


Bolshevism as Faction-rightsEdit

Bolshevism as Faction-rights Party of the Old TypeEdit


Lars T. Lih (2010)[22]

CPGB-PCC Lars T. Lih[23]

... Party of a new type

A split in a party can be justified on two very different grounds. One is: your views are unacceptable; you must go. The other is: only my views are acceptable, only my group can stay. The first view excludes a specific group. The second view excludes all except a specific group.

Which type of justification was used at the Prague conference? Clearly, the first one. Besides all the arguments I have just reviewed, we can point to the resolutions of the conference, in which only a very specific group of writers grouped around a couple of newspapers were pronounced “outside of the party”.

This type of exclusion was not incompatible with the practice of ‘parties of an old type’, if by that we mean the social democratic parties of western Europe during the Second International. These parties had been set up to propagate a certain message, and they were willing to cast off groups that denied the essentials of this message - most famously, in the case of the anarchists in the 1890s. In his defence of the Prague conference, Lenin brought up this episode, along with other actions of discipline and exclusion undertaken by western social democratic parties. ...

A Faction is not a party, Lars T. Lih[24]. Pham Binh comments
... the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were part of the same broad, multi-tendency party from 1903 until 1917 that ‘Leninists’ today strenuously reject as a bankrupt model doomed to fail. The 1917 Russian Revolution proves that this model is anything but bankrupt or doomed in advance. The differences between the two factions were not always irreconcilable. ...

Bolshevism as Faction-rights Party of the New TypeEdit

At the 2011 Left Forum, held at Pace University in NYC between March 18-21 , Platypus hosted a conversation on “Lenin’s Marxism.” Panelists Chris Cutrone of Platypus, Paul LeBlanc of the International Socialist Organization, and Lars T. Lih, the author of Lenin Reconsidered: “What is to be Done” in Context were asked to address, “What was distinctive about Vladimir Lenin’s Marxism? Cutrone commented


It has been a fundamental mistake to conflate and confuse Lenin’s model of party politics for a form of state in pursuing socialism. Lenin presupposed their important non-identity. The party was meant to be one element among many mediating factors in society and politics. Moreover, Lenin’s party was meant to be one among many parties, including multiple parties of the working class, vying for its adherence, and even multiple “Marxist” parties, differing in their relation of theory and practice, or means and ends.

By contrast, there was nothing so repressive and authoritarian as the Kautskyan (or Bebelian) social-democratic “party of the whole class” (or, the “one class, one party” model of social democracy, that is, that since the capitalists are of one interest in confronting the workers, the workers need to be unified against the capitalists). The social-democratic party, after all, waged the counterrevolution against Lenin and Luxemburg....



  20. [1] Martov's Criticism of Bolshevism - Fringe meeting at the Communist Party of Great Britain's 'Communist University 2012'

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