Thoughts on the Marxist Center: Not Marxist Enough

For the Virginia Worker editorial board, a statement by board member Sal Rojo, founding member of New River Workers Power and active participant in the Marxist Center network, on its recent dissolution

The recent announcement of the Marxist Center’s dissolution should come as no surprise to anyone involved. Since its formal inception back in 2018 the MC network has struggled to materialize into a substantial force here in the US. 

Bringing together disparate groups scattered across the country on the basis of a base building concept and general anti-electoralism was not enough to ideologically unite all groups which affiliated. 

The membership generally were well-intentioned and earnestly wanted to build a militant mass movement of workers and the Left. Organizationally, Philly Socialists remained an impressive force capable of significant fundraising to facilitate multiple conferences and funding of various organizing campaigns – including our effort to establish The Virginia Worker publication as well as efforts to build a left network across our state, which hasn’t been seen before in our lifetime. 

Many members were inspired by this anti-sectarian approach which emphasized unity around mass work, whether that be mutual aid efforts, tenant organizing, boring from within the existing business unions, creating independent labor groups, establishing worker cooperatives, and various other social organizations struggling around specific issues affecting people across the US. 

The militants behind the various Marxist Center groupings are worthy of praise, recognition, and solidarity, but the best of intentions were not enough to overcome both subjective and objective limitations that proved insurmountable.

Faulty Foundations

Despite its name the Marxist Center remained an eclectic formation that never adhered to a genuine marxist politics. Its position on electoralism, for example, drew less on marxism proper than on anarchism. While it’s correct to despise and refuse to engage in bourgeois electoral politics this doesn’t negate the utility electoral politics can play for marxists.  

Marxists run candidates not with the intention of winning positions in the bourgeois state (in contrast to left liberals like DSA), but to utilize the platform of the electoral arena to popularize a marxist program among the masses. 

It’s not the ambition of marxists to win elections per se, but to propagandize and agitate to the general public our politics which would distinguish marxists from either the colloquial liberals or conservatives who dominate the political arena. 

Furthermore the non negotiable marxist principle of class independence was never fully enforced within the Marxist Center. It was permitted for many groups and members to dual card in the opportunist Democratic Socialists of America under the guise of “networking” with naive leftists and those who materially benefit from tailing the Democratic Party. 

The constant argument – which we still encounter to this day – is that we would be missing opportunities to connect with those who are on their way past liberalism to the anti-liberal left, that the DSA isn’t a democratic centralist organization and that local chapters shouldn’t be beholden to the DSA’s most prominent figures such as AOC, Sanders, Tlaib, Bowman, Omar, etc. 

This line has been used by DSAers since the “Trump Bump” back in 2016 in order to excuse their default opportunism which has defined the DSA since its inception.  

This was all indicative of an idealist hope that such forces latching onto the liberal-left could be won over to an anti-electoralist left tendency which was never inherently marxist. 

All it did was keep the Marxist Center tied to rightists and revisionism while courting anarchists who have no desire to build a marxist party and remain enslaved to spontaneism as a panacea to the ideological and organizational weakness of the Left and the working class.

Wither the Party?

Before attempting to struggle with rightists and left opportunists, marxists must first unite among themselves with a high level of ideological unity necessary to forge a marxist program. 

The Marxist Center points of unity never offered that, instead remained so vague as to attract conflicting ideological tendencies from autonomism, anarchism, and general revisionism. This in large part was due to an unwillingness to clarify its position on the question of the party. 

While many are justified in their skepticism of party-building considering how poor various groupings over the decades did in building THE revolutionary party comprising the most competent leadership among the proletariat, it still does not justify an agnosticism on the question of the party. Successful marxist movements have never existed without a clearly defined position on it. 

While members commented on it and had a rather sober assessment that we’re far removed from constituting a genuine marxist party, the question cannot afford to be displaced to some future date to be determined. 

It must be constantly posed and debated in the now among the working class – which otherwise defaults to choosing bourgeois parties or sinking into anti-political apathy when no party can deliver on anything other than ensuring the continuation of the class dictatorship of capitalists. 

Perhaps the underdevelopment, confusion, and disorganization of the Left and the working class means we can’t possibly cohere even a pre-party formation at this juncture, but again this doesn’t mean agnosticism is permissible among marxists, especially for the sake of maintaining superficial unity with non marxist tendencies. 

It caused the Marxist Center and its affiliate groups to be caught in limbo, unable to advance ideologically for the sake of not offending non-marxists who’ve been recruited into our various collectives. This is a problem we could see in both our local formation and among others. 

Of course the argument given to justify this is that the Left beyond liberals is too weak to afford a high theoretical unity which would only further alienate and isolate marxists from the Left and the working class, but this issue wasn’t overcome by the Marxist Center in its hopes of going beyond the various line struggles which define stalinists, trotskyists, social democrats, anarchists and the syncretic tendencies caught between them all.

The various tendencies all reflect the antagonisms of the Left defined by the class struggle over the last two centuries or more; they are not irrelevant to the current conjuncture. We can’t simply gloss over these qualitative differences just because all tendencies lack real political power among the global working class. 

The moment any one of these tendencies constitutes a material force the line struggles become even more acute and manifest in practical ways that only seem trivial to us in the present precisely because of our lack of political power.

The lack of a unified political education program within the Marxist Center highlighted the qualitative differences between groups, many not even recognizing the need for this for the sake of building practical organizing skills which could be utilized by any tendency – marxist or otherwise. 

Again, this speaks to the overall theoretical and organizational underdevelopment of the Left and the working class. The Marxist Center tried to account for this by not subordinating any local affiliate to an overall line from the national body. It was anarchist confederalism, not marxist democratic centralism. 

If local groups are too underdeveloped to meaningfully adhere to democratic centralism then forming a national organization should not be undertaken until both the organizational development of locals are substantial and ideological differences are understood and overcome. 

An iskraist project to facilitate line struggle in order to understand ideological differences would have been of more utility to move marxists closer to a party formation than forcing a vague activist network for the purposes of skillsharing in our interests of basebuilding and engaging in mass work.

Marxism and Labor

While many groups in the MC network recognized the importance of the working class— and many members either operated inside business unions or worked to organize the unorganized among the class— there never was a formal recognition that organizing at the point of production is primary and that all other fronts of struggle– such as housing, mutual aid projects, or other fronts that may or may not involve workers– must be subordinate to this task. 

The entire material basis for socialism rests on the ability of the proletariat to seize control over the production process and to operate the means of production based on its class interests of creating use values rather than extracting surplus labor and valorizing capital through the expanded production process.

All shortcomings of prior socialist revolutions hinged on the ability of workers being the most crucial force of production, able to consciously wield the rest of the forces of production in order to wither the divide between mental and manual labor. Every cook must govern, but cooks can’t govern without trade union and political consciousness first.  

Marxist parties around the world which facilitated the class winning their revolutions often had to engage in substitutionism for the workers because either there was no proletarianized mass base in backwards countries or the class was liquidated in civil war. 

This has led to much confusion about what classes or class fractions constitute the revolutionary subject, with many left tendencies going so far as to revise marxism to justify their orientation away from workers at the point of production and instead embrace various identities and classes as a “new innovation” regarding the revolutionary subject.

In today’s context this has meant a division between the Left and the working class, oftentimes celebrated as a strength rather than the source of its insignificance, which also coincides with the predominance of revisionism and tailing anti marxist ideologies which claim marxism has been superseded with “superior” philosophies.

No Revolutionary Theory, No Revolutionary Movement

The primary issue of the Left and the working class is revolutionary theory–or a lack thereof. 

Before we can begin to facilitate line struggle around what constitutes revolutionary theory we must first have a solid foundation in the fundamentals of marxism, not giving platforms to revisionist nonsense such as the radical chic lines of “intercommunalism,” fetishizing the lumpen proletariat, half-baked “anti-imperialist” campism, and every other formulation which downplays the centrality of the working class as the only revolutionary class able to achieve socialism through revolution continuing on the march to full communism with the abolition of the wage relation and bourgeois private property. 

We must rediscover the revolutionary essence of marxism and its relation to the proletariat as the only subjective force capable of achieving global socialist revolution, not pandering to anti western nationalists, anti-political anarchists, or social democrat reformists. 

We must grow from this effort by excavating marxism from the distorters of all stripes, build a unified political education for workers and train them to become organic intellectuals armed with the weapons of historical and dialectical materialism, to allow them to discern revisionism from anti-revisionism and revolution from reformism.

Prior to the MC dissolution there were efforts underway to build an organizer school, but it remained to be seen what kind of organizing and to what end? Would it be more so an Alinskyite “community organizing” model? Or something more akin to AJ Muste’s famed Brookwood Labor College?

When all is said and done the Marxist Center must be seen as a first attempt by a new generation of communists struggling to build a much needed revolutionary pole in the face of very unfavorable circumstances where decades of reaction have destroyed the global working class ideologically and politically, while they’re being misled by revisionists and opportunists. We can’t afford to be fooled again.

2 responses to “Thoughts on the Marxist Center: Not Marxist Enough”

  1. Rest in piss. I read a couple of their publications and it came across as meta-analysis for meta-analysis’ sake. Never any analysis of real-world events, no clear line or path forward (but I guess that was always the point), really no point for its existence at all other than to give left intellectuals a toilet bowl to vomit into. It’s not surprising they failed considering that intellectuals are not solid enough base to build on.


    1. Our experience wasn’t that it was exclusively an intellectual pursuit, in fact many groups were attempting to organize, but the question is organizing towards what ends?


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