Leninism led me to the Third Camp.
The Third Camp led me out of Leninism.
After 13 years of being a Leninist, I have concluded that there is no such thing as democratic Leninism.
I was introduced to Leninism by the International Socialist Organization.
I was an anarcho-communist. The ISO raised extremely valid points about certain weaknesses of anarchism, mainly the need for economic and military structure, even in an equal society.
Once I was told about the soviets, or workers’ councils, serving as bodies of mass participatory workers’ power in the Russian Revolution, I was convinced that perhaps the key parts of the anarchist vision were better expressed by a variant of what I hoped was an anti-authoritarian revolutionary socialism.
Lenin, after all, was frequently accused by his comrades of being an anarchist.
(Doesn’t mean it was true.)
Turns out Leninism isn’t democratic, like, fundamentally.
Weird. Lot of people told me it was.
Then again, a lot of people told me it wasn’t.
Maybe I should have listened to them.
However, the ISO wasn’t just Leninist.
They had this other amazing ideology called Third Campism. That’s really what attracted me.
The slogan of Third Campism is “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international socialism.”
They went hard. They were revolutionary socialists who believed in overthrowing the fake socialist dictatorships on a Marxist-Leninist basis. Now that’s self-critical existentialism. (Sadly, the organization lacked that in most other areas.)
They went hard in other ways. Being ex-ISO is practically being ex-military. The discipline was both inspiring and dystopian.
Point is, they ultimately contradicted themselves.
The whole point of Third Campism, I thought, was to be a less authoritarian form of socialism. Not quite anarchy, but possibly “libertarian socialist.”
It’s weird how a Third Campist organization, which literally preached “socialism from below” as an alternative to Stalinism, was so fucking hyper-authoritarian in its own internal regime.
In this way, being an ISO member was super-confusing.
It was actually, in retrospect, a lot like being in the Party in 1984. They said and did contradictory things, and expected you to go along with the endless absurdity.
The bizarre contradiction between their preaching and their practice was overwhelming.
Oh well. Turns out DSA was also founded by Third Campists, though they are now inundated by randos who have no clear politics.
As for me, my parting with the ISO was around 2012 or 2013, around when the worst accusations against the ISO were starting. The leaders buried it and I was never even aware any of that was going on, but the general authoritarianism and cultishness of the group make the accusations plausible.
In Philly, I was briefly part of an ISO branch. I hoped the organizational cultishness at the national level wouldn’t be reflected there, but wrong again. I asked a question about electoral strategy and they all answered “support the Green Party” with zero explanation, and every person in the room said it.
Lol uh, I think it’s kind of a public secret that what really brought down the ISO was Bernie Sanders. Looks like the Green Party got bypassed by real life pretty hard.
With Bernie around, people didn’t see the point of the ISO’s bullshit anymore. What’s most weird is, Sanders killed the ISO mainly just by focusing on the big simple redistribution demands that the ISO should have been using to build itself all along. The ISO’s lack of focus on this has perennially driven me nuts. Socialist Alternative is far stronger on that type of thing.
Bernie is a Democratic Socialist, and I suspect he leans toward Third Campism. He is often seen making statements criticizing the analogous authoritarianism of Trump, Putin, and Jinping altogether. That is a sort of neither-East-nor-West, anti-authoritarian position.
Anyway, I was once attacked publicly by former Jacobin editor and ISO member Paul Heideman, for my series of articles as a former member writing about how the ISO could be organized more democratically. Paul’s not a Jacobin editor anymore.
It seems the Third Camp has basically become Democratic Socialism. Works for me.
But Lenin was right about one thing: democratic or not, you’re not getting change without a fight. I’m not sure enough people in DSA understand the necessity of revolution to achieve even democratic socialism.
Now I seek a socialism both revolutionary and democratic, but I’m done looking to others for answers.
I’m a do it myself.