Love Me, Love Me, Love Me, I’m a Leninist

Now that they’ve discovered the notion that a political party, faced with a dangerous political enemy, should suppress all internal criticism of its putative leader lest she be “harmed” by that criticism, and that the party should refrain from fractious internal debates lest it be ill-equipped to defeat the enemy, I wonder if liberals are rethinking their views on Lenin.

The principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local Party organisations implies universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action; it rules out all criticism which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of an action decided on by the Party.

Actually, by the standards of today’s liberal, Lenin’s strictures come off as relatively benign. He at least called for “universal and full freedom to criticise” the party unless and until that criticism threatened “the unity of an action decided on by the Party.” Whereas the Democrats haven’t even yet decided on Clinton, and we’re already being told that any criticism of her in anticipation of that decision will threaten the party’s ability to act upon that decision once it is made.

Speaking of that language of harm—the New York Times headline reads, “Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch,” and the article repeats the charge—I’m reminded of the language Justice Scalia used in the Bush v. Gore case in order to grant a stay to the Florida recount.

The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [Bush].

Despite all the obvious differences in the two situations, I’m struck by the similarity: in both cases, it’s being argued that democratic rules and norms should give way to—indeed, might harm—the personal needs and concerns of the candidate.

During the early republic, the UCLA political scientist Karen Orren has argued, the prerogatives of political office were thought to be a kind of personal property right, something that belonged to the officeholder. In the 19th century, those “officers’ rights” slowly began to give way—under pressure from democratic movements from below—to a notion of citizens’ rights. Matters of state, in other words, weren’t to be viewed through the prism of their effects upon the officeholder; they were to be understood from the vantage of the democratic citizen and the needs of a democratic polity.

Now, apparently, we’re returning to the earlier view of politics. Now we’re expected to view matters of state through the eye of the officeholder. Now we’re expected to consider how an insistence that we count all votes in Florida—or see a primary campaign through its end—helps or harms the fate, the personal fate, of the officeholder. Or would be officeholder.

There are many words for that type of political system. Democracy is not one of them.


  1. Donna Newman May 19, 2016 at 9:09 pm | #

    Sounds eerily similar to “l’état, c’est moi!”

    • Glenn May 19, 2016 at 11:15 pm | #

      The Unitary Executive powers claimed and used by Bush have never been renounced by Obama and so the Imperial President has become institutionalized into the Imperial Presidency by precedent.

      The legal problems presented by habeas corpus have been avoided by the short circuit of presidentially approved assassinations of U.S. citizens.

      Republics are weakened when practices used in administration of empire are imported back—to use the discomforting terminology— to the Homeland.

      In Chicago we have had tortured confessions by instruments brought back from Vietnam by Jon Burge, who was sentenced and served four and one half years for obstruction of justice and perjury. Statute of limitations prevented his prosecution for the underlying crimes.

      Yes, very kingly and emperor-like.

      • Donna Newman May 20, 2016 at 12:08 am | #

        Just read up on Jon Burge. Horrific stuff. But I would argue that republics are weakened when they use such practices in the administration of empire anywhere, not just in the homeland (not that you were suggesting otherwise). I see such acts as shaking hands with the devil, for those who commit them and for those who remain silent about it.

        • Glenn May 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm | #


  2. Roqeuntin May 19, 2016 at 9:53 pm | #

    I just finished Stephen Kotkin’s exhaustive biography of the early years of Stalin’s rise/reign(through 1928). I can safely say I’ll never think of the Russian Revolution the same way again. Lenin was strictly anti-democratic and don’t ever let anyone tell you any different. He wasn’t even in favor of the modicum of democracy in letting all socialist parties participate in the Soviets. The mere fact that the Socialist Revolutionaries (which were just as popular, if not moreso than the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) have now been all but airbrushed out of history are a testament to this fact. His treatment of the SRs, whose support was mostly among the rural peasantry, takes on a particularly sinister tone in light of Stalin’s eventual reversal of the NEP, forced expropriation of grain through brutal repression, and he absolute worst…the Holodomor.

    Anyhow, while Lenin may have given lip service to limited criticism early on (that’s from 1906), by 1921 all such talk was gone. Particularly damning is the resolution “on party unity” which banned all internal factions from the 10th party congress. This would form the bedrock of the dictatorship Stalin would eventually form for himself within the party. It’s also worth mentioning that Lenin created the post of General Secretary exclusively for Stalin and it had not existed up to that point. So many want to put so much more distance between the two than there actually was.

    I’ve only read a handful of Lenin’s works, but what strikes me more than anything are these obsessive feuds he had with people. He’ll just pick a person and bash him endless for 20 pages. At least half of The State and Revolution is just him going after Kautsky. That’s Lenin to me, exceptionally aggressive to anyone who dared to criticize him publicly, to the point where it was somewhat neurotic.

    As an aside, reading that book made me realize that the first succession after a revolution, or after a political group is established is often more important than the revolution itself. Our lives are finite, leaders eventually die, someone else inevitably has to take over. How this is handled sets the stage for how ever subsequent leader will do it. It’s the point at which a group moves from an association of people to an institution. I feel corny saying it, and it might just be nationalism talking, but imagine how different things here would have been if Washington hadn’t stepped down after two terms. Even Hobbes (no fan of democracy. Ha!) talks about how important setting up a path for succession is politically.

    • unorthodoxmarxist May 20, 2016 at 9:47 am | #

      Context is everything. Lenin’s long reply to Karl Kautsky takes up a good portion of State and Revolution because Lenin was writing it as a polemical answer to the distortion of the Marxist concept of the state that the German Social Democratic Party had been perpetrating since the early 1890s. Karl Kautsky was, at least until WWI, considered the heir to Marx & Engels’ as party theorist and nicknamed the “Pope” of Marxism. He published the most influential Marxist journal of the era, De Neue Zeit. Lenin was not “bashing him endlessly” but rather participating in a debate which even the least attuned Marxists of the early 20th century would recognize immediately as being between the revolutionary and reformist elements of the 2nd International.

      As for the post-revolutionary developments, the canard of liberals is always that the Soviets dispersed the National Assembly in January 1918 and refused to allow other socialist parties to participate. The only parties to support the October Revolution were the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (a small splinter group from the SR’s). The Mensheviks and SRs were openly counter-revolutionary: to turn over the reigns of government to them after the workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils (soviets) had seized it made little sense. The soviets and factory councils were seen by (and I think correctly) the Bolsheviks and others as the next step in workers’ control over the means of production and society, and the parliament as an outdated bourgeois form.

      Limiting democracy in the early Soviet republic (1918-1921) was a measure of the Civil War and what the early state was up against: total annihilation. Lenin and the Bolsheviks (by then the CP) banked on a revolution in Germany to alleviate their situation and allow the Russians to turn the mantle of revolutionary vanguard to a more advanced industrial country. That unfortunately did not happen, and they were stuck with a party that had been decimated by the Civil War, isolated and beset on all sides by opponents. It made for the fatal error in 1921 of banning party factions (especially after Krondstadt) that eventually allowed Stalin to consolidate power.

      • Roqeuntin May 21, 2016 at 7:26 am | #

        To unorthodoxmarxist:

        I agree with most of what you said, but it isn’t merely a liberal canard. That’s certainly how MLs like to play it, then as much as now, but it’s really disingenuous to act as if the turn the USSR took under Stalin was coincidental instead of the result of sustained set of policy decisions going clear back to the Lenin and the October Revolution itself. Anything which loosened the stranglehold Lenin and the Bolsheviks had on power became “counterrevolutionary.” Stalin absolutely wasn’t the first one to abuse this term. By excluding the Mensheviks and the Left SRs (let alone the right SRs), he had excluded every single group that wasn’t run exclusively by him. People who defend these decisions, perhaps because they want to somehow make Lenin innocent of what was to follow, are only arguing for the conditions which allowed Stalin to become what he was.

        There was no moment at which the Bolshevik Revolution was innocent. If anything was betrayed during it, it was socialism itself.

    • Will G-R May 20, 2016 at 7:27 pm | #

      I wonder whether you’ve seen the NYPL event with Kotkin and Slavoj Žižek. While Žižek obviously has ideological predispositions of his own, Kotkin comes across as pretty rigidly fixed in a liberal Cold Warrior’s ideological outlook toward the USSR, especially when it comes to any sort of discussion of Marxist theory. (In particular, to characterize Stalin’s approach as “taking communist ideology through to the end” or however he puts it is a pretty embarrassingly simplistic framing.) Having not read the book itself, does he take the time to grapple with honest-to-God Marxist accounts of Soviet history in a way that doesn’t come across in this talk, and does he demonstrate any meaningful fluency in the ideological vocabulary of the people he’s studying?

      Regarding Lenin’s works, I may be in the minority here, but to me the absolute most important is Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, which (like Marx’s most important works) is all about the inner workings of capitalism without necessarily opening the “how to be a proper socialist/communist revolutionary” can of worms. Also, regarding Kautsky, you may be underestimating the extent to whick Kautsky was regarded as pretty much the preeminent leftist thinker/organizer after the deaths of Marx and Engels, and in fact, the extent to which we’ve forgotten his influence today probably owes quite a bit to criticisms from contemporaries like Lenin having hit their mark. (Besides which, if we’re going after Lenin for obsessively feuding with Kautsky, why not go after Marx for framing one of his most important early theoretical works as a protracted diss track against Proudhon, or the same of Engels re: Dühring?)

      Not that I’m trying to come across as an ardent Bolshevik here; apart from his role as a theorist, probably the most charitable thing that can be said for Lenin as a revolutionary is that he came along much to early, similar to what people like Marx said about Thomas Müntzer. But watching Kotkin lecture on Lenin and Stalin, he seems to have trouble fully shaking his Great-Man-theory reflex in a way he almost certainly wouldn’t if the atrocities in question were those of, say, King Leopold in the Belgian Congo or Lord Lytton during the Great Famine of 1876–78. But then, it’s pretty clear why authoritative liberal histories of those sorts of atrocities are much thinner on the ground than comparable histories of the Great Purges or Holodomor.

      • Roqeuntin May 20, 2016 at 11:27 pm | #

        I have seen that interview. In fact, that’s a large part of why I bought the book in the first place. While there are times when Kotkin’s bias shows through, overall the book is very even handed. The most egregious error, and I wish I could personally tell him this, involves him constantly putting Marxist-Leninist terminology in scare quotes. The book would read in a much more balanced tone if he simply stopped putting the Soviet vocabulary in quotation marks. Kotkin generally holds more favorable views towards capitalism than I do, but so what? He is a historian, not a Marxist. I didn’t pick up the book to get his interpretation of Marxist-Leninist theory.

        However, he’s absolutely right about Stalin “seeing things through to the end.” If there’s one thing I’m in total agreement with him on, it’s that many people have it exactly backwards. Stalin did what he did not because he was corrupt or had distorted Marxism-Leninism. The Animal Farm version is total bullshit. Stalin did what he did precisely because he believed in Marxism-Leninism so strongly he was willing to see millions executed and starved to death to see it happen. When the corpses started piling up, many would have stopped, but not Stalin. His belief was that strong. It was his willingness to do anything, absolutely anything, in the name of ML which lead to such atrocity.

        I’d go so far as to say Kautsky was largely right in his assessment of the Bolshevik revolution. You’re right, however, that everyone writes polemics. Lenin certainly wasn’t alone in that. Maybe I’m just interpreting that in light of the stranglehold he maintained on power once he managed to get it.

        Lastly, I’m well aware of King Leopold and countless other mass murders perpetuated by capitalists. That doesn’t excuse the Holodomor. It was as an entirely preventable, senseless, and viciously barbaric loss of life nearly on part with the Holocaust. Trying to sidestep that is incredibly shameful and I’ll have no part in it.

        • Will G-R May 21, 2016 at 3:14 pm | #

          “He is a historian, not a Marxist. I didn’t pick up the book to get his interpretation of Marxist-Leninist theory.” This is sort of an odd outlook given that one of Kotkin’s most important theses per both his and Žižek’s assessment is that Bolshevik leaders like Lenin and Stalin weren’t cynical ideological manipulators but were earnestly applying what they perceived to be Marxist theory. To learn that he puts permanent sneer quotes around Marxian jargon sort of undermines this thesis, basically signaling that his ability to look the subject matter in the eye is as blinkered as if he was a medieval Catholic historian writing about the Arians or Cathars. (Also, when you say Marxist-Leninist terminology, are you talking about mostly Russian terms, or are you talking about terms from leftist theory that predate the Bolsheviks? I mean, it’d be pretty unbelievable to see an honest-to-God historian sticking rabbit ears around words like “bourgeois”, when even David fucking Brooks uses “bourgeois” in his book titles. Plus it’s not like Marxist historians aren’t a thing either.)

          And put on your theory hat for a second. “Seeing things through to the end”? For an actual Marxist, the only “end” one can plausibly postulate would be a stateless, classless society in which nobody is forced to sell their labor power in exchange for means of subsistence. The Bolsheviks definitely claimed to have achieved a post-capitalist dictatorship of the proletariat and to be progressing toward such a society, but to my knowledge no Soviet organ ever claimed to have successfully defeated global capitalism or abolished the state, and in fact one of the reasons it was so dangerous to be an earnest theoretical Marxist in the former Eastern Bloc was because many aspects of that order were so obviously not post-capitalist (let alone post-socialist) in any sense that would carry theoretical weight. This is part of why I’m so skeptical of Kotkin’s ability to get inside his subjects’ heads in any meaningful way, and also probably part of what Žižek was thinking when he tacked in the direction of critiques that are “too soft on the regime”: if one has categorically ruled out arguing against the Soviets on Marxist terms, one’s argument against the Soviets isn’t as robust as it could be.

          Lastly, nobody’s talking about “excusing” the Holodomor. The point is that all mass socioeconomic arrangements in human history to this point have involved tragic mass violence at such orders of magnitude, and the Steve-Pinkery thesis that Western capitalist societies somehow above this fray involves an ideological maneuver to ignore the forms of mass violence that such societies export to faraway places that can be rendered out of sight and out of mind (usually places containing darker-skinned people with funny accents, who are even easier to ignore). The only possible excuse for such violence is if it’s done in a way that could possibly hasten the arrival something better, which is the excuse the Bolsheviks thought they had, but if the present state of Russia is any indication they were pretty clearly wrong. It could be that the most honest Marxists are capitalists themselves, which ironically enough would be a very Hegelian reversal.

          • Roqeuntin May 21, 2016 at 6:22 pm | #

            I have never, at any point, claimed “Western capitalist societies are somehow about this fray.” They aren’t. That is not the point.

            I have neither the time nor the inclination to go back and find every instance of scare quoting Marxist-Leninist terms, but it was too frequent for my taste. I also find it very odd that you’d pretend as though Marxism-Leninism wasn’t the official ideology of the Soviet Union for the entirety of its existence and that there wasn’t an elaborate system of jargon surrounding that. I also find it funny that you would complain about Kotkin being “ideologically blinkered” but then go on to argue that I should read a Marxist historian instead, which is just an ideological shaping of the story of a different form. There’s no shortage of Soviet apologia.

            I flatly and unequivocally disagree with your statement that “seeing things through to the end” (why are you obsessing over this quote?) for a Marxist can ” be a stateless, classless society in which nobody is forced to sell their labor power in exchange for means of subsistence.” As if there were no intermediate goals on that pathway or as if it were that simple. Even if I accept those terms, both Lenin and Stalin truly believed that is what they were working for. If we want to talk about agriculture again, this was the entire point of attempting to force everyone onto Kolkhoz, massive collective farms, when there were numerous other solutions which were possible. It was their devotion to Marxism which made it the only acceptable solution.

            I know you want to believe anyone making arguments like this is just a reactionary, but that in and of itself is part of the problem. Indeed, that was the problem with the Soviet Union, Diamat, and Marxism-Leninism itself. Criticism, legitimate or otherwise, was dismissed as counterrevolutionary, and in many cases violently repressed. It was precisely this insulation, where only information which adhered to their already existing political assumptions was tolerated or allowed to be published.

          • Will G-R May 21, 2016 at 8:41 pm | #

            Geez, cool it. I’m genuinely curious as to whether Kotkin’s book is worth my time, which is why I’m asking. Just as there’s no shortage of Soviet apologia, there’s also no shortage of earnest liberal Cold War apologia that treats Marxist theory as something one should cross oneself and avert one’s gaze anytime one encounters, but what there is a shortage of relative to those two types of work is criticism of the USSR that nonetheless demonstrates if not an affinity for then at least an honest engagement with Marxist theory. If Kotkin doesn’t demonstrate such an engagement, he has an uphill climb to convince me that he has much to say about the relationship between Soviet Marxist ideology and Soviet political/economic history that hasn’t already been said by people like Robert Conquest. That’s all I was trying to get at.

            The line about “seeing things through to the end” stuck out because like I said, it seems to show that he doesn’t spend much time asking what actual Marxists like the subjects of his narrative might consider to be “the end”. To see “the end” as establishing a command economy within a single nation that at least for a time could compete with Western liberal capitalism on the global stage, means to disregard the conception of “the end” as an advanced global society without states/classes/money/etc. which in orthodox Marxian theory is only state of affairs that could really constitute an “end” to capitalism. Given that even many liberal historians have deeply criticized the notion of “the end of history” in relation to the collapse of the USSR, one would think this point might deserve some closer introspection than Kotkin’s bit in the talk about “seeing things through to the end” necessarily demonstrates.

            What I’d like to see some evidence against is that Kotkin is still committed on some level to the notion that the Soviet leadership were all cynics for whom Marxist dogma was just an ideological tool for establishing a viable Russian imperialism. At least during Stalin’s time, the Soviet economy was advancing quickly enough that one could plausibly argue that collectivization etc. was nothing but a strategy for securing Russia’s position as a global economic superpower, which may also have something to do with why Stalin’s image is undergoing a revival in today’s ultranationalist Russia while Lenin’s isn’t. When Žižek (for whom the complexity of how our explicit beliefs relate to our actual behaviors is basically an idée fixe) tries to tease Kotkin in the direction of untangling some of these complications, Kotkin doesn’t seem to understand what he’s getting at, and one explanation could be that Kotkin doesn’t have a firm grasp on what the Bolsheviks believed in the first place. But since another explanation could be that not everybody is great at thinking on their feet while speaking to a packed auditorium, I’d be delighted to be wrong about that.

          • Roqeuntin May 22, 2016 at 12:27 pm | #

            Fair enough. Kotkin doesn’t appear to have any devotion to Marxism, but he does take his role as a historian seriously. I wouldn’t have ever bothered with it if it were some “Black Book Of Communism” BS. That’s the best I can put it. I think he says in that interview that he was initially studying science before history and if anything, that shapes his sensibility. Not that you could ever give a non-ideological history of the USSR, but he retains a scientists devotion to getting the facts straight no matter what. There are points in the book where his Western liberal capitalist affinities show through, but they’re usually pretty obvious and easily overlooked.

            I dont think ” Soviet leadership were all cynics for whom Marxist dogma was just an ideological tool for establishing a viable Russian imperialism” and frankly neither did they. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this. The Bolsheviks, if nothing else, were true believers in communism. Kotkin is absolutely right that their fanatical devotion to these ideals in the face of all evidence to the country, and more than that using this to justify extremely violent repression, was the source of most of their problems. He likes describing it as a paradox (the book is titled “Paradoxes of Power” after all). Communist theory was both their strength and their undoing. It isn’t that Marxism-Leninism and Soviet communism in general was simply a distortion of Marxism, there is something inherent in the theory itself which lead to these events.

            Much of it was shaped by external factors too such as the aftermath of WWI, but they often shot themselves in the feet. They wanted diplomatic recognition and trade agreements with foreign governments, but would simultaneously try to ferment revolutions within those same countries. The desperately needed the technology and machinery Germany had, but Stalin executed German engineers at Shakhty (in a country which had a severe shortage of specialist in the first place) on trumped up charges of being counterrvolutionaries and saboteurs. There was no good way to reconcile the Marxist need for world revolution with the need to have normalized diplomatic relationships with other countries.

          • Will G-R May 22, 2016 at 2:57 pm | #

            Likewise fair enough, although I wasn’t actually trying to argue that the early Bolshevik leaders were cynics who saw Marxist ideology as nothing but a tool to manipulate the masses. I agree with Žižek’s approval of Kotkin for explicitly rejecting this point, as well as with Žižek’s broader intellectual project that such views miss the complexity of how ideology works more generally. The point I would argue, partly on the basis of talking it over with people who grew up in the former Eastern Bloc, is that the distortions of Marxist theory that were forced on the USSR by its circumstances (especially those centered around the notion of “socialism in one country”) made it increasingly difficult for anybody in that climate to move beyond uttering fixed incantations from Marxist doctrine and take Marxist theory seriously as a method of analysis. In so many words, the early Bolsheviks’ devotion to Marxism helped create precisely the conditions that made an actual honest Marxist the most dangerous thing for a Soviet citizen to be; now there’s a paradox of power for you. (Just to give one of my personal favorite examples of this, the psychologist Lev Vygotsky laid the groundwork in the ’20s for what later became the modern field of cultural psychology, inspired by a close study of Marx and with a stated goal of doing for psychology what Marx had done for economics, but his influence was marginalized and suppressed after his comparative studies on cognitive development in the central Asian SSRs started to make it clear that the USSR hadn’t achieved anything remotely like equal access to educational opportunity for all its citizens.)

            These are the sorts of question that I’d love to see a history of the USSR tackle head on, and the author of such a history wouldn’t necessarily need to be a Marxist, but they’d certainly need to be more familiar with the ins and out of Marxist theory than most Western liberals will let themselves become. For plenty of liberals, probably even some in this very comment section, to actually study Marx and Lenin might as well be reading from the Necronomicon.

          • Roquentin May 23, 2016 at 9:31 am | #

            I agree about the liberal aversion to engaging with Marx and consider it to be a serious problem. The Cold War propaganda worked too well it seems. Sort of in line with what you were saying earlier, I have a documentary put together by the Dutch called “900 Days” where they interview elderly people who managed to survive the Siege of Leningrad during WWII, because even back then there wasn’t much time in which you still could. One part that really stuck with me is that a woman speaks of how her husband participated in the defense, a hellish task by any definition, then he and many like him were declared “Enemies Of The People” and shipped off to the Gulag.

            It’s a good film either way and does a great job of capturing how living in the Soviet Union was perceived by Russians themselves.

          • Willl G-R May 24, 2016 at 8:33 am | #

            Looks fascinating, although one thing I’d caution the filmmaker against is falling too deep into the rabbit hole of asking “how living in the Soviet Union was perceived by Russians themselves” in reifying the perspective of some abstract ideal “Russian”. To borrow from Žižek again, this way of talking already cedes too much to the regime: it allows that the regime managed to successfully forge a singular “Russian people” who could unite universally or near-universally around a common purpose, even if that purpose was hatred of the regime itself. As with any hitherto existing sociopolitical arrangement, the USSR had a class structure in which different groups of people had many different competing interests, including some not necessarily illegitimate interests in the regime’s continued existence. (Consider for example what a resurgent tsarist regime or a White military junta could have become in the heyday of fascism.) In general, national mythmaking in which some “average [wo]man on the street” speaks authoritatively as the mouthpiece of The People is one of my great pet peeves, and documentaries like this can fall into this way of thinking quite as readily as any of the various generations of Russian, German, or American state propagandists.

  3. msobel May 19, 2016 at 10:04 pm | #

    I am still stuck with the fact that an large percentage of the primary voters are picking Sanders and his policies. I see nothing being done to address that. STFU because TRUMP! is not winning argument.

  4. Joeff May 19, 2016 at 10:30 pm | #

    I think there’s a difference between saying, a la Lenin, that any dissent inherently harms the party, and saying, a la (as attributed to Sanders) that one intends to harm the virtually presumptive leader of the party.

    • aab May 20, 2016 at 12:04 am | #

      How so?

    • Mitch Guthman May 20, 2016 at 5:35 pm | #

      But it seems to me that the way in which he’s “harming” her is by pointing out her flaws and arguing that she’s incapable of winning in the general election. And he’s doing this as an, admittedly, last ditch appeal to “super delegates” that they should shift their support to him because of his argument that he is the stronger candidate against Trump. So the obvious harm seems to be by pointing our Hillary’s weaknesses as a candidate, Bernie is making it very slightly less likely that she will be the party’s nominee. Unless Hillary and the party have become one, I don’t see the harm in contesting the nomination against the person who has been the “presumed” nominee since before the first vote was cast.

      The other, I think unspoken, argument is that because Hillary is so far ahead it is time to accept her as the nominee so that she can begin the necessary shift back to her natural center-right, corporatist territory, which is also the ground where she wants to fight the general election—basically as a New Democrat.

  5. alex May 19, 2016 at 10:50 pm | #

    I think this argument is a bit specious and trolly. Just because Democratic elites are trying to compel its members to tow the party line doesn’t make them Leninists,mostly because Debbie Wasserman-Schultz can’t send us all to a gulag if we refuse to follow her directive.

  6. Glenn May 19, 2016 at 11:24 pm | #

    Phil Ochs! Great choice Corey!

    Love me, Love me, Love me, I’m a Liberal

    I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
    Tears ran down my spine
    I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
    As though I’d lost a father of mine

    But Malcolm X got what was coming
    He got what he asked for this time
    So love me, love me
    Love me, I’m a liberal

    • mistah charley, ph.d. May 20, 2016 at 10:25 am | #

      it was lenny bruce who said “i’m a liberal with the cancelled checks to prove it” – i think he was speaking of the liberal in a more favorable way than phil ochs was

  7. calling all toasters May 20, 2016 at 12:21 am | #

    “I’m struck by the similarity: in both cases, it’s being argued that democratic rules and norms should give way to—indeed, might harm—the personal needs and concerns of the candidate.”

    I confess that I’m a little shocked by the comparison. Certainly the Sanders campaign has repeatedly declared the well-established rules as unfair, rigged, and corrupt. And certainly they’ve argued that those must give way to his righteous revolutionary anger. But Lenin was a murderer and a tyrant. It’s beyond the pale to compare Sen. Sanders to him.

    • aab May 20, 2016 at 5:41 am | #

      That’s a distortion of what Sanders and Sanders supporters are saying. We are saying that we are playing within the well-established official rules, and that the Clinton campaign is not. It has, in fact, rigged elections, suppressed the vote, used the DNC as a money laundering operation, etc.

      The Nevada convention this past weekend was an example of this. Not only were not chairs thrown, but it was the state party chair who called a head count of delegates while more than enough Sanders delegates to take the state were out in the hall registering, well before the deadline to do so. And it degenerated from there. There is undisputed video testimony before the Chicago Board of Elections of Sanders votes being erased and change to Clinton. While two New York Board of Elections officials have been suspended, they still refused to count most of the provisional ballots, even after longtime polling place volunteers testified to numerous unprecedented problems that resulted in unprecedented problems. Kentucky wiped out thousands of Sanders votes with almost all the voted counted and replaced them with Clinton votes — just enough to give her the “win”. And surprise, surprise, numerous Kentucky officials were convicted in 2009 of longtime election fraud which included voting machine rigging.

      We are not arguing that anybody has to give way to righteous revolutionary anger. We are arguing that voters should be allowed to vote, their votes should count, and these votes should matter in determining the candidate, particularly when public tax money is being used for these primaries. Is that really so revolutionary?

  8. Watson May 20, 2016 at 1:17 am | #

    Far worse than being Leninist, Wasserman Schultz et al are imitating the devil-incarnate Ralph Nader.

    Yesterday’s poll results (Clinton 46% Trump 43%; Sanders 53% Trump 41%) reflect a consistent trend that Bernie does better against Trump than Hillary does.

    If the most important thing from a Dem/liberal perspective is to defeat Trump, then Clinton should gracefully withdraw and throw her delegates to Sanders. If she won’t, she’s a careerist ego-tripper like the much-maligned Nader.

  9. Will Boisvert May 20, 2016 at 3:20 am | #

    Corey, I think you may be reading too much into Scalia’s comment. Yes, it was phrased in terms of personal harm to Bush from a recount, but that’s just a basic principle of common law, which is always framed in terms of personal effects on individuals. In general, people can’t sue over things that don’t personally affect them just because they think there is an injustice going on. To have standing—the right to sue—plaintiffs need to show the allegedly unjust situation did or could personally harm them.

    In a recount case, for example, take a mayoral candidate who claims that the incumbent mayor’s election officials fraudulently disallowed ballots from precincts where she had heavy support. She would of course say that voters’ rights were violated, but as a matter of law she would have to establish her standing to sue for a recount by saying that the fraud could cause her a personal harm by violating her right to occupy the office to which she had been duly elected. Bush undoubtedly made similar representations in the Florida recount case.

    I think pro forma claims about personal harm from electoral procedures are routine in recount cases; they are required just to get into court, and judges have to pronounce on them. So Scalia’s comment that Bush could be harmed was just a routine boilerplate finding, not an assertion of a new principle that the personal interests of office-holders would now trump the public interest. (I think SCOTUS was wrong and that the recount should have proceeded.)

    • escottnyc May 20, 2016 at 11:13 am | #

      nice explanation – but the implications should heighten rather than diminish the sense of wrong , as ” reading too much into Scalia’s comment” suggests.
      Gore certainly made the same argument, that denying his right to hold office was personal harm. And dismissing the peoples right to vote is the same harm multiplied by the number of votes disregarded.
      We can only speculate why the Court decided and Gore conceded. Their opinion is not up to the import of the issue. “Harm” and “wrong” were equivalent in this case. It was more “decree” than “decision” .

    • Mitch Guthman May 20, 2016 at 5:43 pm | #

      But I think Corey is right that the implication is clearly that the harm to Bush is that if all the votes are counted he could lose the election. That’s essentially the claim being made by Bush and it’s not simply some formulaic legal triviality; the essence of his claim isn’t that he risks being cheated but rather that his family’s control over Florida’s executive branch made the election a done deal and that if the votes were all counted he would be deprived of the benefits of controlling the apparatus of state government.

  10. Donald May 20, 2016 at 8:37 am | #

    It’s been this way all along. Back in 2000 people arguing against Nader as a third party candidate occasionally said he should have run in the Democratic primaries if he wanted to change things, but most Nader critics simply denied any validity to his criticisms. And with Sanders following the advice given to Nader, we see Clinton supporters denying that there is anything seriously wrong with the Democrats. Which makes a certain kind of sense– anyone who is enthusiastic about Clinton can’t really care that much about the influence of big donors on politics, so long as the donors send their money to the right candidate. They can’t see much wrong with militarism, so long as it is a Democrat dropping the bombs or supplying them to some ally to drop. And I’m not being snarky.

    I even see well meaning people who claim Sanders and Clinton have the same goals. This just seems willfully naive to me.

    • Glenn May 20, 2016 at 12:48 pm | #

      The function of the Democratic Party is to act as a null placeholder to block the formation of a party in opposition to the avowed party of the right.

      The Democratic Party markets itself as the party of the left but objects to left participation, blocking that participation by setting roadblocks such as Super Delegates.

      The Left does not have a political home.

      The Democratic Party coordinated the removal of Occupy Wall Street encampments, treating them as criminal in their calls for justice, while funding the bailouts and bonuses of Wall Street criminals.

      The Left does not have a political home so the Left must exist where it is not welcome. Therefore I support the occupation of the Democratic Convention (where the Left is not welcome) by Sanders supporters.

  11. UnorthodoxMarxist May 20, 2016 at 9:08 am | #

    This is an odd comparison to make. Lenin – and the Bolshevik Party’s – democratic centralism was predicated upon being a revolutionary party in an autocratic government, beset by spies and the possibility of being shipped to Siberia. When the party made a decision to, say, support an illegal strike or to organize for the uprisings in 1917, the concept of having ongoing above-ground debate was not only ludicrous, but it was dangerous and harmful to the party’s capacity to function as a revolutionary organization. For all the disparagement the pre-revolutionary Bolshevik party receives, this is one that seems to me completely misunderstood (at best) by Westerners and (at worst) deliberately obscured. The Bolshevik party was intensely democratic for an underground organization whose leaders were scattered across Europe, was hunted by the Russian government and who were organizing to lead a revolution. Internal factions were allowed to dissent and publish their own factional journals and organize amongst the party membership – how much more democratic can an underground revolutionary organization be without moving above-ground and being destroyed by the Tsar’s secret police, in which case for all the “democracy” there is no more party.

    The Democratic Party’s attacks on Sanders supporters are, conversely, the most vulgar and obvious forms of anti-democratic behavior in oligarchic mass parties attempting to suppress dissent. Unlike the Bolsheviks of pre-1917 Russia, there are no state police coming for the Democrats – they *are* the state. It makes no sense to sully democratic centralism and Lenin here when you really want to attack the Democratic Party apparatus.

  12. sufferinsuccotash, legitimate May 20, 2016 at 9:33 am | #

    I’m wondering if Hillary’s penchant for “pragmatism” extends to relations with people in her own party. She seems quite willing to be “pragmatic” when dealing with the opposition party, i.e. not supporting anything which the Republicans strongly dislike, which is just about everything except more wars in the Middle East. Why can’t she do the same for the Bernistas instead of treating them like something that just crawled out from under a flat rock?

  13. stevenjohnson May 21, 2016 at 2:20 pm | #

    You really have to be a dyed in the wool right-winger to try to redbait Hilary Clinton. It doesn’t take too much of this kind of thing to make the case against the Sandernistas.

  14. NM May 25, 2016 at 8:04 am | #

    For all his (profound) political and economic errors, Lenin did understand that in politics, ultimately, there is only one thing that counts: Winning. All else is footnotes.

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