Some people on the left say we are in a period of ideological struggle only; that the Party model has proven outdated and fascistic, and is now superseded by more nebulous collections of multiplicities, spanning the globe with decentralized networks. The historical moment is not ripe, they say, for the kind of militant mass action we saw in the 60s, that we see today in the anti-imperialist resistance of the Third World. The best we can do now is retreat into our inner circles and contemplate the situation; in the sallow, post-Soviet light of the present, we must intensively question and refine our philosophical, political conceptions and goals, and wait for History to once again unfold.
Proponents of these ideas share their urge to abdicate political responsibility with the Ultimatumist faction of the Bolsheviks, who emerged in the period of reaction after 1905. In the name of ideological purity, the Ultimatumists and Otzovists called for Bolshevik withdrawal from the reactionary Duma, trade unions, and all other legal institutions important to the masses of workers. Lenin scornfully identified the reformist tendencies and bourgeois sympathies of these and other ultra-leftists, who glorified the outsider status of an illegal party, and invested leftism with a grandiose glamour.
Today’s counter-revolutionary naysayers appear not only in the leadership of the communist parties themselves, but among radical academics, professors and ‘artists’. Unlike their Bolshevik predecessors, these ultra-leftists are mistaken in believing that they constitute a marginal (and even dangerous) social element. Politically disengaged, cloistered academics serving capitalist universities are about as threatening to Empire as a mass demonstration held on acebook. This atmosphere of bourgeois isolation fosters the intellectual’s delusion of the Academy as a subversive space for formulating revolutionary theory, and ensures nothing but the fervid production of immobilizing justifications for the status quo. Post-modernism has seeped so insidiously into every political theory department, that now an entire conference on “Revolution” can contain barely a mention of actual revolutionary struggles (slipping like sunlight through a dense forest of jargon.) Fancying it has finally negated the archaic necessity of the Party structure, the Academy pictures itself as an unaffiliated vanguard of consciousness; lurking, id-like, in the libidinal depths of politics, the discourse of leftist intellectuals stirs up a frenzy of genius which bubbles to the surface of society, agitating the troubled waters. As Marx remarked of the idealist philosophers, their thinking inverts reality. Putting aside the camera obscura of post-modernism, sober-headed Marxists can see this radical underground for the ivory tower it has always been.
“The ability to adjust oneself to the most adverse conditions and at the same time to stand out and maintain one’s high-principled positions—such [are] the traditions of Leninism.” (Krupskaya, 167).
Writing on the period of emigration she and Lenin spent after 1905, while the tsarist regime was imprisoning and torturing revolutionaries, Krupskaya reflects on the ideological struggle within the Party for “a materialist philosophy, for contact with the masses, for Leninist tactics,” and even for the existence of the Party itself. She maintains that the Bolshevik’s revolutionary strength was formed in the crucible of that struggle over the character of the Party, against its reactionary, revisionist and ultra-leftist factions. Many of the fights were intensely personal, “waged between people who had only recently been fighting side by side,” and ended in permanent estrangements between former comrades, such as Lenin and Bogdanov (169). Leftist intellectuals today believe they are engaging in similarly historical debates; yet we must understand the tactical difference between the Bolshevik’s war of ideas and the discourse generated by the Academy. The former struggled for proletarian revolution, while the latter struggle to protect their class positions.The disputes over ideology within the Party were not mere attempts to refine concepts or question old paradigms; they were struggles for material control over the Party’s propaganda and organization. Rather than revising or reinventing their politics, the Bolsheviks used the respite in the revolutionary struggle “for the purpose of deepening its content still more” by interrogating the failures of the 1905 uprising (178).
Krupskaya and Lenin realized that succumbing to internal pressures to withdraw from trade unions or dissolve the party would have meant losing hard-earned contacts with the proletariat all over Europe. Lenin believed earnestly, in agreement with many workers, that revolution would come again, and the Bolsheviks must be ready for it (178). Therefore, the theoretical struggle was “a struggle for the Party’s very existence, for its consistent line and correct tactics,” which laid the groundwork for the successful uprising and seizure of power in 1917 (169).
Today, it is fashionable to critique such dogmatic universals as “correct tactics” and “consistent lines,” while relying heavily on the problematic assumption that the decentralization of power under late-capitalism renders obsolete all programs of political agency. Self-righteously rejecting the legacy of militant class struggle, this post-marxist tendency delights in bursting the big balloons of history hanging over the left. The sacred cows are defiled and deflated—materialism, communism, decolonization, trade unionism, feminism, nationalism, internationalism. Smashing up dusty old doctrines, these iconoclasts make a lot of noise, but very little revolution. Their theories read like love letters to the triumph of capital; in these modern fables, communications technology, de-proletarianization, and the homogenizing production of the Spectacle combine to explain why no one should pick up a gun in the midst of ferocious class war.
“All erroneous ideas, all poisonous weeds, all ghosts and monsters must be subjected to criticism; in no circumstances should they be allowed to spread unchecked” (Mao 19).
I am by no means a Maoist, but I find his writing a useful source of theory and practical advice. Mao identifies two kinds of contradictions: the antagonistic contradictions between the people and their enemies, and the non-antagonistic contradictions “among the people themselves” (45). All counter-revolutionaries are enemies of the people, but the people are of two minds on this question: “Those with a Rightist way of thinking make no distinction between ourselves and the enemy and take the enemy for our own people.” Those on the left “magnify contradictions between ourselves and the enemy,” and are so hasty to denounce counter-revolutionaries, that they confuse internal tensions with fundamental schisms (49). True to historical form, the present ultra left reserves its severest scorn for other leftists, particularly those organizing around such outmoded concepts as race, class, gender or national identity. To the right of them, liberals critical of neoliberal austerity continue to support the Democratic party, and fail to identify the police as a reactionary enemy of the people. The anarchist tendency, and the middle-class liberals who started Occupy Wall Street share the same ideological ground when they deny the political necessity of identity-based organizing. Whether they arrive at that territory through the discourse of colorblindness or by way of French theory becomes immaterial the moment they threaten to arrest revolutionary activity. On closer inspection, there is merely the barest trace of a line between ‘I don’t see race,’ and ‘there is no race.’
 The Liquidators among the Bolsheviks wanted to dispense with the illegal Party apparatus, believing that the risk of underground activity only hampered the labour movement (Krupskaya 167).