In a recent article on the Counterpunch site [L1]
Andrew Levine recommends that “the Left” start consciously and without
hesitation embracing the “core principles” expressed in Lenin’s 1902/3 pamphlet
What Is To Be Done?.
Lest there be any confusion, that advice is aimed at
the American “Left”.
It “has lessons” for the American Left.
The first thing to note is that there is some
vagueness as to just what “the Left” means. As best I can make it out, it does
not mean ‘liberals’. Rather, it aims at those ‘radicals’ who were eagerly
vacuumed up by the demographically-desperate Dems in the late-1960s and
But that distinction may now be of only historical
significance, since the ‘liberals’ pretty much got swamped by the ‘radicals’,
each bunch of which came onto the field with an agenda - often including the term ‘revolutionary’.
And – especially with the quick and pressured Beltway embrace of
radical-feminism (which itself had elbowed more moderate versions of feminism
out of the nest, to fall and crack-up or starve in the unpublicized depths
below) – there came both the rise of
deliberate and conscious Identity Politics (fractalizing the Citizenry and The
People into implacably-oppositional chunks who shared only a common
victimization of ‘oppression’) and the
political Method of Lenin as channeled through the early-20th
century Italian Communist thinker Antonio Gramsci.
And that Method of Gramsci’s was specifically
designed to undermine already-functioning Western European democratic and
constitutional polities in the service of a revolution that would bring ‘the
marginalized’ to the center and end all ‘oppression, hegemony, and dominance’
once and for all. (Those now-familiar political terms are Gramsci’s, lifted from
his writing by the radicals over here.)
Gramsci also dreamed of undermining the American
democratic constitutional (and – of course – bourgeois) polity but couldn’t
even begin to hope ever seeing that
But then came the 1960s and the Dems were desperate.
And then the Republicans realized that if the Dems
were going to kick the Framing Vision to the curb in order to create a new
Leviatha government to impose the agendas of their newly-created Identities,
there was no reason why the Right couldn’t bring back bad old Leviathan, an
impositional government hedged twice: by the Framers in 1787 and by the
American Progressives following the (First) Gilded Age through the (worthwhile)
efforts of both Roosevelts during their time in the White House.
The common ground here being that both major Parties
were going to kick the Framing Vision (and its Constitution) to the curb. From
the Left because the Vision and the Constitution were merely patriarchal
machinery for continuing patriarchy, dominance, and oppression; from the Right
because the Framing Vision and the Constitution curbed and bounded the power of
wealth and unbridled capitalism.
And that both Left and Right realized that the only
way to get what they wanted was to get control of the levers of political power
(previously reposed by the Framers in The People and in deliberative democratic
politics) and then get rid of whatever principles or traditions put curbs on
the power of that government to do whatever its operators wanted it to do for
I’ve said it all before on this site.
But now comes a well-credentialed academic member of
the Left elites. And he has finally been moved by the awfulness of the current
national situation to put it out there in plain English: the Left needs to come
out of the political closet, declare its love for Lenin (or at least, for his
“core principles”) and do what has to be done.
The ‘L-word’ now takes on a stunning new
connotation: that ‘L’ is code for ‘Lenin’. Say it now and say it loud … I’m a
Leninist and I’m proud! (At this point, wave your copy high over your head with
a big smile, while facing the eager cameras. If there are several of you, try
to wave in unison and create that nice ripply Wave effect.)
And while you’re at it, Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom!
(You remember the Mao-man, right?)
Lenin’s pamphlet, says Levine coyly, “was a
political intervention focused on issues confronting the Russian Social
Democratic movement at the dawn of the twentieth century”. So far so good and
And “much of its content is peculiar to the time and
place of its composition”. Ditto.
But it has some value to us here today as a
“theoretical treatise” and thus read “it can be enormously enlightening”.
So we – even we here – are well advised – if we be
of the Left – to put away Mao’s Little Red Book (do you still have your copy?)
and take up Lenin’s book (hereinafter: WITBD). Because, “ironically”, his
insights “have never been truer” than they are now in the United States.
Meaning, that American politics today, and Our overall political arrangements,
have a lot in common with the problems that so exercised Vladimir Illyich (formerly
Ulanov, but it wasn’t a catchy name and so he changed it to Lenin).
“The Left in the United States today, what there is
of it [of the Left or of the United States?], would do well to take on board
that text’s core principles – adapted, of course, to the circumstances we now
Except that Levine will studiously and thoroughly
avoid discoursing as to just how it has been the Left’s embrace of
Gramscian-Leninist principles forty Biblical years back that has brought Us to
Our present lamentable and increasingly catastrophic political (and cultural
and economic) situation.
And as I have often said on this site, it is a huge
and hugely relevant and dubious Question: can you even graft a
Leninist-Gramscian politics onto the Framing Vision and the Constitution and still keep the United States
envisioned by the Framers, as a government (to use Lincoln) “of the people, by
the people, for the people” – and not just one or two but all three of those enumerated principles?
Since We hear from every point on the political
compass now that things have gone very profoundly wrong – somehow – with
America and its politics and its political discourse and its entire basic
Stance toward the world and toward its own most genuine and vital First
Principles, then I’m going to suggest that the Answer to that Question is – and
always has been – No.
Call me a pessimistic, un-hopey backlasher but
there it is.
Levine has the courage of his convictions. “The most
basic of those principles [i.e. Lenin’s] is that, for fundamental political change, leadership and direction is
indispensable … insurgent masses need a
revolutionary vanguard”. [italics mine]
But I say that it is precisely the political Method
(and Genius) of the Framing Vision that the only way to achieve ‘political
change’ – especially if it’s going to be ‘fundamental’ (whatever that means) –
is to engage the political support of the Citizenry, of The People. And you do
that not by doing an end-run around
The People by either hoodwinking them
manipulatively or by simply going to
the Beltway and doing ‘deal politics’ in the non-smoking smoke-filled backrooms
there or both. Nor do you threaten and intimidate and/or seduce the pols – the
elected legislators chosen by the Citizenry to responsibly “preserve, protect
and defend the Constitution” – into giving you what you want or face a highly
publicized and strategically designed hissy-fit.
And I say that while the Framers' way may be less ‘efficient’
than the way of a “revolutionary vanguard” in the short-run, yet in the long-run – as the
awesomely serious and adult Framers and Lincoln saw – this is the only way to
effect change without so fracturing and de-ranging and debasing the entire
culture, society and polity that it is reduced to a quivering collection of
‘interests’ each – like some antediluvian single-cell life-form – seeking
merely to get its own way.
“Revolutionary vanguards” have amply demonstrated a
nasty habit of not wanting to let go of the reins of power once they have – for
their ostensibly benevolent purposes – achieved that position. In that,
Revolutionary Vanguards and the Man on the White Horse have a great deal in
common. And from a constitutional democracy’s point of view, it’s all baaad. (And let's not forget that even among revolutionary-vanguards there will always have to be a Comrade-in-Chief - such vanguards are notoriously not-democratic.)
“Revolts and rebellions have always been with us,
and will be so as long as injustice and oppression endure.” Yes.
But I say that it is the Genius of the Framers that there
is a better way than revolt: you trust the Citizenry, The People, and – this is
the great Gamble contained within the American Experiment – you cast your lot
with Them and trust in the process embodied in the Vision.
Or else you go and start yourself another polity
altogether. (Nor, in a democracy, is it wise (let alone decent) to trick the
Citizenry – those lumpish cattle, in your condescending estimation – into going
along with you, having been assured that you are just ‘reforming’ and
‘tweaking’ or that you can guarantee
a ‘revolution’ – or many simultaneous revolutions – with no ill effects and
lethal consequences that need to be worried about.)
But you can’t graft bits of Lenin’s conceptual
corpse onto the living body of America’s living system and expect to create in
the Beltway lab on the Hill anything resembling a living entity that is capable
of leading a decent and constructive political life.
But that’s what’s been going on for forty years at
least, with – Gramsci could only have dreamed of it – the Beltway’s full,
eager, treacherous and official collusion.
Levine continues the Leninist insight: “But for the
spontaneous outbreaks of resistance to result in real change, they cannot
remain spontaneous forever”.
And once again: what does “real change” mean? Has
the accumulated wrack of the past forty Biblical years not been “real” enough?
What precisely had the cadres been hoping-for and aiming-for forty years ago?
With no definition of what constitutes “real change” then We stand poised to
live through permanent or semi-permanent revolution from the Left while
simultaneously waging permanent or semi-permanent war under the auspices of the
And that cannot end well.
It’s time to Kick-Tire and ask the revolutionaries
exactly what it is they intend to achieve, so that We will know when the
‘crisis’ is over and We can get back to a functioning and productive culture,
society, economy and democracy (all of which, you may well have noticed, have kinda
gone to seed in the past forty years).
And just as “Lenin wrote as a revolutionary
addressing revolutionaries”, let’s Us address the Left elites as
revolutionaries and ask them forthrightly and directly just what it is they
intend to accomplish.
Or else We are going to be revolutionizing and
revolutionizing until suddenly We are no longer in business as a polity or a
common-weal or perhaps even a nation.
Or perhaps We might simply ask Our elected
representatives and those who seek to be such. After all, the Framing Vision’s
equivalent of what Lenin would term ‘vanguard elites’ are the elected
representatives: it is their job,
under Our guidance, to do the
day-to-day planning and tasking that keeps the common-weal chugging along. We
didn’t hire them to turn the whole shop over to Lenin’s vanguard-elite cadres;
We hired them to keep Our democratic business and culture and society going.
And if the pols agree with the Lefties that We need
“fundamental transformations of social, political and economic institutions”
then they need to say that and then submit to the Questions that will make them
spell it out: just what do they think they’re doing or what do they think they
are going to achieve?
Levine admits it: this type of “transformation”
isn’t “on the agenda of any liberal democracy, much less the United States”.
So much for ‘liberal’ American democracy (Levine
might mean Liberal, the enemy Lenin figured he faced; the ‘liberal’ of the
post-1972 era would be a lot more familiar to Lenin – and Gramsci – because
post-1972 American liberalism has been heavily tainted with the Gramscian-Leninist
And while Levine takes his Leninist swipe at
American democracy as not even being ‘liberal’ any more, I would say that a
major reason for that is that long before Bush and even Reagan the Beltway gave
itself – and Us – over to the cadres of the various ‘revolutions’ here. More on
that in a bit.
And then Levine walks a bit on the dark and ominous
side: “But fundamental changes in the basic structures of societies … are not
out of the question, even in the United States” because “a better world is
possible … even in the United States”.
So the past forty Biblical years have not been
anywhere near the ‘revolution’ that Levine thinks should have happened. Of
course, that may be the result of the
policies and consequences of what revolutionizing was done in those years. But
it’s more pleasant for the Left to imagine – as the patriotistic jingoists do
about the Iraq War and its spin-offs – that the Problem stems from not having done
the job thoroughly rather than admit
that the job itself has caused wayyyy more damage than anybody cared to think
about back in the long-ago.
I would say that the revolution – like the Iraq
invasion etc. – has been ‘oversold’. A typical gambit when you’re trying to
sell your stuff to the government. And
put one over on The People.
And have We now got “a better world”? What
revolution has ever managed to pull that off? And without serious cost? Or will
We get the fabled “better world” after just one more mighty dose of
“Lenin’s point was that without a revolutionary
organization, shaped and informed by revolutionary theory, there can be no
successful revolutionary practice.” And so it was. And Catharine MacKinnon said
as much – although not quite as overtly and candidly – in her 1989 how-to book,
Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. But
she had to be coy and could afford to be: there was still enough ‘wealth’
around so that the Beltway could slather gold-paint over everybody – like a
Potemkin village – and keep up the illusion that you could indeed ‘do’
Lenin-Gramsci and still be rich. (Although Katherine Hepburn had acutely
observed long before: you can have it
all, you just can’t have it all at the same time. But at just the moment when
the Left might have listened to Hollywood, it chose to ignore Kate.)
A vanguard-elite revolutionary organization is not compatible with a deliberative
democratic politics and it is not compatible with the Framing Vision. It
presumes the incompetence of ‘the masses’ and in this country that means The
People and the Citizens. And if there are no competent Citizens then there is
no basis for The People and no need for a Constitution and no grounds for the
Framing Vision. Any Engineering 101 student can (or could) tell you what
happens to a building or vessel that is hurt like that.
“This goes for peaceful but nevertheless fundamental
transformations of basic institutional arrangements.”
Let’s put this beast to bed once and for all: What
has happened in this country in the past forty Biblical years is not
politically characterizable as “peaceful” (and most certainly not honest,
either). We have had culture and gender ‘War’ and ‘Wars’ on this that and the
other thing; We have seen law militarized by being ‘revolutionized’ (the
definition of ‘revolutionary law’ is that it supports the revolution – as Lenin
himself declared); and We have been saddled (though quietly) with an
Identity-Politics philosophy (scarfed from Lenin via the Eurocommunists of the
1970s and 1980s) that presumes an eternal ‘war’ among competing Identities (an
eerily Social Darwinist bit) and rejects any “deliberative democratic politics”
because nothing will change because so many of the Citizens ‘just don’t get it’
so why listen to them in the first place .
I would say that huge and lethal violence has been
done to the Framing Vision and to the First Principles upon which this country
and common-weal was founded. And that the moral violence that destroyed so much
of the integrity of the political process has been incalculable. And that also
applies to the violence done to an entire Citizenry whose polity and common-weal
has been undermined out from under them, with the collusion of their elected
officials and the ‘free press’ that was supposed to keep them honestly informed
about what was really going on.
And just what does that “basic institutional
arrangements” mean? Surely any change so “fundamental” and ‘basic” should have
merited a thorough public airing and deliberation. But then, what do The People
know? Most of them ‘just don’t get it’.
But Levine shrewdly and slyly foreshortens his
historical perspective: from Lenin back in his salad days Levine moves Us right
up to “early 2011” and “the Republican overreach in Wisconsin”. Somehow that
period is missing between 1919 and 1991 (when Lenin’s scheme finally closed
itself down); and between 1968 or 1972 and 2010 in this country (when the
‘revolutionary’ elites conducted their Long March through America’s culture and
politics and institutions).
Are We better off now than Archie Bunker was in
1970? Steerage passengers now get more ‘freedom’ on Titanic, but – somehow, though let’s not go there – the damned
thing seems to have hit a berg (flooding steerage first, in a savage irony). So
much for the command-and-control capabilities of the vanguard-elites and the
pols who loved them.
(And – yes – there will always be enough lifeboats
for first-class; if Greed is Good when you’re amassing wealth, it’s even more
so when you’re buying your way into a lifeboat on a dark and cold night at
But all of this revolutionary-thinking is “not
really peculiar to Lenin … it is a tenet of all serious efforts to think
through the dynamics of fundamental change in the modern era”.
I would say, first, that since Lenin’s thinking
helped contaminate the entire 20th century, then he himself helped
create that bit of the modern-era. Nor did it help that even as his ideas
produced the wrack and ruin that ultimately self-inflicted failure on his
Project, the Beltway pols were becoming BFF’s with the spin-off
vanguard-elite cadres of Gramsci over here.
And second that while Levine may indeed have given a
great deal of serious thought to effecting revolutionary agendas, and to those
“dynamics of fundamental change”, yet I don’t think he has given any thought at
all as to whether any of his illuminations and excitements are constructively(
and survivably) applicable to the American polity of the Framing Vision. What
sort of doctor is so very fascinated with his own surgical technique but hasn’t
given thought as to whether the patient can survive his cutting-edge operation?
Why, he asks, bring Lenin’s name into Our current
mess at all?
For one thing, he says, “What Is To Be Done, like all classic texts in political theory,
conveys timely insights”.
First, I’d say it was a classic text in a failed
Second, while it evinces a political theory, it is a
political theory that is inapplicable to and incompatible with the Framing
And , yes, Lenin evinces a burning concern for
suffering and oppression. But as We have recently learned in Iraq and
elsewhere, you aren’t helping matters much by ending up creating even more
suffering and ruin than you were trying to mitigate or erase or solve in the
And vanguard-elite politics are not, and cannot be,
deliberative democratic politics. So that
would be quite a fundamental change indeed for this country.
We freely talk about Machiavelli in polite
conversation nowadays, he sighs, but not Lenin.
He asks plaintively: Can’t we all just get used to
using the descriptor ‘Leninist’ the same easy way we use the descriptor
Don’t We have enough trouble with Machiavelli’s
reasons-of-state, by which a government can secretively carry on its (inevitably
nefarious) activities without having to inform its Citizens? And Machiavelli
was advising a government that was not a democracy; so transferring his
illuminations to the American scene caused even more frakkulent problems.
But then – echoing current Democratic political
strategist George Lakoff – Levine offers another reason: “how a political
position is described is itself a political act”. Meaning that to reject Lenin
is – he says – to go along with the “reactionary” elements that tried to bring
“Marxism into disrepute” in France and among neo-conservatives here during the
1970s and 1980s.
Who in the 1980s would have had to work to bring
Marxism (let alone Leninism) “into disrepute”?
He quotes the English historian E.P. Thompson who –
asked if he were still a Marxist – responded that “in the present circumstances
common decency requires that he say Yes”.
I fully appreciate Marx’s (and perhaps even Lenin’s)
concern for oppression and their desire to do something to ameliorate or even
eradicate it. But their solution a) caused far more damage than it cured and b)
can do – and to some extent has done – more damage than it has cured here in
the once-robust democratic polity that was the United States.
If Jesus was right that “the poor you always have
with you”, then aren't you always going to need a Marxist-Leninist polity (or
“basic institutional arrangements”)? There is a lethal political philosophy –
or philosophical warning – implicit in Jesus’ own insight. But of course Jesus
was making the point in that scene that you are never going to eradicate
poverty (or ‘oppression’) and that it’s one of those things that goes with the
territory in a fallen and incomplete world.
Which is not to
assert or infer that Jesus said it was OK to have poverty in your midst. But it
is to say that since that
heart-rending reality is never going to be completely eradicable, then you are
ill-advised to overturn your entire polity and common-weal (and create all the
ensuing wrack and ruin) on the ‘justification’ that you are going to pretty
much eradicate it and so the cost will be worth it in light of the
world-historical goodness you shall create.
The rats of poverty and suffering infest the human
ship. But setting fire to the ship in mid-ocean in order to eliminate the rats
is … not wise. Better to take a more prudent and moderate approach and just go
after this and that rat as best you can figure to do so.
But prudence and moderation are precisely what Lenin
and the entire revolutionary mindset abhor and abjure. And it is precisely there that they part company with the Framers
and that their schemes become profoundly and fundamentally incompatible with
the deliberative democratic politics of the Framing Vision.
Continuous public debate and decision – transmitted
to the elected representatives – by the Citizens and The People are the wisest
and safest political paths to pursue in the process of continually improving
But vanguard-elite agitation and manipulation –
reaching to the manipulation, seduction, or suborning of the elected
representatives themselves – is not safe. And if ‘safe’ sounds rather
un-adventuresome and ‘bourgeois’, then you can look to the Titanic for what happens when ‘safety’ is made to yield to lesser
but more biting imperatives.
And revolutions – being part of the Genus
‘Revolution’ – generate their own self-serving imperatives. And safety is not
one of them. Rather, they incite a deluded and truly fake ‘heroic’ arrogance
and sense of urgent and demanding purpose, coupled with an intransigent refusal
to consider the ill-consequences of their demands in the wider view of things.
As Bush did in Iraq, and as the vanguard-elites of America’s various
Identity-Revolutions have been doing for the past forty Biblical years.
Levine refers in a glancing aside to the fact that
“our political discourse is by now so degraded” … and so it truly is. But that is the result of forty years of
Political Correctness (itself a Soviet revolutionary tactic), aided and abetted
by a demographically-desperate Beltway and a financially-desperate mainstream
media (both rather integrity-challenged). All the bits and pieces of agitprop
designed to stampede and seduce an uninformed public (Lenin: “the masses”;
Framers: The People) into going along with or at least acquiescing-in wave
after wave of ‘revolutionary reform’; We reformed and reformed until We are now
so utterly deformed that nothing works right and The People are merely cattle
to be herded by barons (and baronesses) of the Left and of the Right.
In the inimitable words of Chester A. Riley: “what a
revoltin’ development dis toined out
ta be!” (Google it if you have to.)
So Levine sets himself up to offer even “prissy” and
“self-righteous” blue voters “a dose of real politics, or, more precisely, lucid
Yah. Well, Lenin had a lucid political theory but –
again – it turns out to be a) a bloody and lethal failure of world-historical
proportions and b) utterly incompatible with and antithetical to the Framing
Vision and any deliberative democratic politics. (And as a political philosophy
professor … has he been teaching this stuff to kids in college?)
So, Levine perorates, “one should use the Leninist
name wherever one can” because it is not only “substantively correct” but
“better yet, it will annoy those who deserve it most”.
I think it’s high time that We stopped settling-for
a politics-of-annoyance. It is time to engage the Citizenry (who will then
inform their elected representatives) rather than to annoy The People, or
rather to annoy all those variously-conceived ‘oppressors’ who, if you tally
them all up, apparently constitute most everybody else.
The in-your-face, under-informed and over-excited callowness
of the Boomers (radicals even more than drug-addled Flower Children) was a bad
show that should have been stopped more than forty years ago. Instead it was
brought to the Broadway of the Beltway and has become the longest-running
turkey show in the country’s history.
And those turkeys have come home to roost.
But in best Over-the-Rainbow fashion, Levine points
to the “comparatively beneficent capitalist states” that “still survive in much
of western and northern Europe” that “look pretty good from over here”.
Those states, like this country, have gotten to
where they are in the past decades by doling out entitlement-cash on the
witless presumption that you can kill the Goose and still get a steady supply
of the Golden Eggs. They presumed that they
could promise all the bennies because their economies would continue to grow
and provide tax-monies.
But the productive economies have collapsed, and
surely – even if they recover somewhat – cannot fund all the promises that
their pols made in the fatuous and sly expectation that as long as there was
enough ‘wealth’ to go around, nobody would care much about whatever else was
going on with their country. The ‘Bubbles’ – in Europe and here – were the last
gasping effort to keep the cash-green illusion of Oz going: you can have lots
of ‘revolutions’ and still be a productive economic generator.
Nope. Turns out that only the rich really got
richer; everybody else got ‘wealth’ in the form of ‘credit’ that dissipated
like smoke in the wind along about 2008. Now most democracies can only offer
government-funded jobs, but a) that will only last as long as the government’s
currency is worth anything and b) how can any democracy function if most of its
Citizens are enserfed to a government check?
Levine roundly abuses Carter as well as Clinton and
Obama for their ‘bipartisan’ sell-outs. But in an age of Identity-Politics, it
is impossible to garner reliable electoral majorities and you have to pander to
each Identity’s demands and agendas today in order – you hope – to secure the
approval of their elite Advocates and the votes of their oppressed masses come
And in the general adversarial melee of Identity
Politics, with The People fractalized, the unsleeping amassers of wealth
quietly took up where they left off after both Roosevelts and the Great
Depression. And in order to secure their
support, pols had to give them what
they demanded too.
But Levine blames it on “constitutional arrangements
that assure that ‘we the people’ are consulted only at periodic two and
four-year intervals”. But that’s a cartoonish caricature of genuine democracy
in the Framing Vision. The Citizenry – informed accurately and effectively by a
‘free press’ – would keep themselves well-apprised of political goings-on and
continually let their elected representatives know what they thought.
And that requires
an adult-level attention span and ability to stick with a task or a
responsibility. But of course the Boomers got rid of Adulthood and all of the
ensuing cohorts have grown up thinking that ‘children’ hold the key to
happiness and that Youth (or Youthiness) is the hallmark of human success in
conducting a Self and a life.
How are the vanguard-elites going to repair that lethal and huge chunk of damage? Lenin
wouldn’t have bothered; as long as the Party vanguards were in power, they
could run everything and the masses could just settle back to parasitically
enjoy what the hard-working Party vanguards had whomped up for dinner.
Yah. That worked
And as Theodore Lowi saw forty-plus years ago*, a
complex government is required for a complex society. But that simply means that The People must work even harder to ride
herd on their elected representatives, and to do that The People must be even more adult and competent and
responsible than in a ‘simpler’ society. But the mature adult competence of the
Citizenry is precisely what has not been developed; indeed, it has been eroded
and undermined and ‘devalorized’: the oppressed need only rely on their
vanguard-advocate elites and show up on cue to express pathos, bathos, or
outrage as required. They’ll get on the evening news or at least get a moment
of recognition on some website.
in a truly sly move, Levine points out that since the American political system
is now so debauched and deranged – but only in favor of the wealthy and only as
a result of their machinations – then Lenin’s vanguard-elitism is now
necessary. We don’t seem to have much ‘democracy’ around here anymore, he
mentions as if by inadvertence.
Levine sighs that “the electoral road to change and
hope – not just for a radically transformed social and economic order but even
just for a more decent order within the framework of existing social and
political and economic arrangements – is more than usually out of reach”.
So then – in Levine’s schematic – this country in the
space of forty years has been reduced to the hapless and feckless polities like
Gramsci’s backwards southern Italy of his childhood. And so the vanguard-elites
of Lenin are now necessary.
But it was – I would say – precisely the Gramscian-Leninist undermining of the past forty years
that has so corroded the civic competence of the American Citizenry that now the Gramscian-Leninist solution is
the only ‘answer’ and ‘solution’.
Phooey and baloney. This is nothing more than the kid who bumps off his parents and then claims the privileges of an orphan.
Levine pulls his punches a bit at the end: this country
now needs “a political vanguard – not necessarily, indeed not ideally, the kind
Lenin proposed”. Well if you are going to have a revolution, just how non-Leninist can your revolutionary
vanguard be? A sufficiently non-revolutionary and non-Leninist vanguard
might wind up being really not much more than a dedicated bunch of Citizens who
have something they want to say to all their fellow/sister Citizens and get
some public deliberation going and let things move from there.
that was what We had.
Remember? Before all the revolutionary political ‘change’ of the past forty
Levine exhorts Us: “For those who would take the
message of What Is To Be Done to
heart, the remedy is clear: we need to construct a leadership that is capable
of making change happen when the time again arises, as it surely will”.
Say what? The Leninist idea is that revolutionary
vanguards make the revolution happen, not that they sit around and wait until
things look better. Indeed, Lenin pretty much missed the original Russian
revolution in February of 1917 and quickly had to whomp up his own Red October
revolution against the democratic
revolutionary government of Kerensky in October of 1917. Lenin – it must be
recalled – did not overthrow the Czar’s
government; he overthrew the
still-struggling democratic government of Kerensky. Lenin – to borrow Churchill’s thought – strangled Russian social-democracy
in its crib. Because he had no use for the namby-pamby prudence and moderation
of democracies and insisted on a full-blown revolution run by his vanguard
And what is this “leadership” that Levine seeks to
“construct”? It has to be a vanguard-elite. Because, of course, the leadership
of The People is to him (as it was to Lenin) just a pipedream. So much for the
If We have to get back to any “core principles” in
this country – and I agree that We most desperately do need to do that – then
We need to get back to the First Principles of the Framing and of the
And there isn’t – as Levine for his own purposes
implies – much time left.
*Read his 1969 book The End of Liberalism and wonder how anybody who could read back
then can claim that they didn’t see Today coming.
If I could use this image to try to capture at least
some of the complexity and yet simplicity of the Framing Vision: imagine a
group of travelers who pool their resources and lease a yacht-and-crew for a
voyage. The travelers don’t and can’t go up to the bridge and give orders to
the captain about the day-to-day running of the vessel; they get together and
decide what ports they’d like to visit and then the captain – who actually
knows how to run the vessel and crew – implements their overall plan.
This is a way of seeing what the Framers were after.
They did not want ‘direct’ or ‘radical’ democracy (the individual lease-holding
passengers constantly going up to the bridge to give helm or engine orders), but
they most certainly did want The People (whose voyage is responsible for the
employment of the yacht and crew) to control the ‘vision’ of where the vessel
Nor, really, do I trust any ‘direct’ or ‘radical’
democracy schemes. They will always work out like Orwell’s Animal Farm: the few vanguard-elites, claiming the authority of the
whole, will simply try to take over the whole thing – with, but of course, the
best of intentions for everybody. It never works out that way.
Labels: American political development since the Sixties, Andrew Levine, Antonio Gramsci, Lenin, vanguard elites