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The final aim is nothing: The politics of revisionism and anti-revisionism



Chinese communist propaganda poster from the sixties: 'Defeat American Imperialism, defeat Soviet Revisionism'


By Doug Enaa Greene


I. Introduction


May 2, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Revisionism, like the terms “Marxism-Leninism” or “fascism” is arguably one of the most widely used and abused terms on the revolutionary left. Charges of revisionism within organizations generally amount to condemning whatever fails to approve of a reigning party line. However, the original meaning of revisionism in Marxist debates refers to those who seek to jettison Marxist theory, with the claim of updating or revising it, by replacing it with a fundamentally new theory that amounts to a renunciation of revolutionary struggle and the communist goal along with a reformist political practice which accepts the permanence of capitalism and the boundaries of bourgeois politics. Orthodox forms of Marxism, despite their opposition to revisionism, tend to be similar to it in practice. Rather, successful anti-revisionism requires a renewal of Marxism by breaking with exhausted forms of orthodoxy and continual enriching Marxism through a living revolutionary practice. However, previous forms of anti-revisionism can themselves crystallize into new forms of dogma and orthodoxy, eventually exhausting themselves in the process by becoming revisionists themselves.


II. German social democracy background


In 1900, Europe appeared to be in a golden age of progress and abundance. The continent had enjoyed peace since the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The wars of the nineteenth century were either of brief duration or were localized in the Balkans, but had not involved the major powers in a clash. Europe had grown richer throughout the preceding century as democratic rights expanded, wealth accumulated and living standards rose. The advancements of science nurtured ideals of progress that would soon wipe out poverty, barbarism and war. Furthermore, it appeared that capitalist crises were decreasing in intensity that would eventually be eliminated as society was rationalized and social contradictions became less acute. It is no accident that Europeans of all classes and walks of life, including socialists, believed that a new day was fast at hand.


However, progress and prosperity was not lessening contradictions, but bringing them to a higher level. The old competitive capitalism was giving way to that of monopolies with capital increasingly concentrated in fewer hands – particularly in Germany. The increase in monopolies led to the export of capital and imperial expansion across the globe. Capital investments in 1914 came primarily from only three countries - Britain, Germany and France. For example, in 1914 “43 percent [of capital investment came] from Britain alone, 20 percent from France, 13 percent from Germany.” [1] And it was with the development of imperialism that the lie of the European peace was laid bare. The export of capital abroad was accompanied by soldiers as Africa and Asia were subjugated to colonial domination, exploitation and their populations were massacred by the millions. The expansion of markets and the search for resources not only led to the division of the world by the great powers, but the growth of massive armies. The powder keg was finally lit in 1914, leading to outbreak of the First World War.


Along with the concentration and expansion of capitalism in Europe, the proletariat also grew in strength and power. To take three examples, in Germany from 1895 to 1907, the number of workers increased from 5.9 million to 8.6 million. In France, the working class increased from 3 million workers circa 1900 to 5 million in 1914. In Britain, the number of industrial workers grew from 5.7 million in 1881 to 8.6 million by 1911 (not including 1.5 transportation workers).[2] And as the size of industry grew, more workers found themselves concentrated in larger and larger factories. Although these trends were less marked in some countries, in general, the proletariat across Europe was growing not just in numbers, but in terms of collective strength in trade unions and political organization.


The most visible manifestation of the political weight of the working class was found in the Second International. The Second International was formed on July 14, 1889 in Paris (the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution) uniting socialist parties in Europe (with sections later to be found in Argentina, Japan, and the USA) who were united around a Marxist program of class struggle and revolutionary change. By the early 1900s, these parties were rapidly expanding and capturing millions of votes at the polls. It seemed only a matter of time before the socialist parties would take power and, at last, bring the downfall of capitalist rule.


The pride and joy of the Second International could be found in Germany, which was not only one of the most industrialized countries in Europe, but the home of Marx and Engels. Despite more than a decade of repression at the hands of Bismarck and the lack of representative institutions, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) continued to grow and gain influence: “In 1890 the party sent thirty-five delegates to the Reichstag. Twenty-two years later almost one fourth of the members of the national parliament, 110 in all, were Social Democrats.” [3] By 1914, the SPD had grown, despite an electoral law designed to benefit more conservative parties, to become the largest single party in the Second Reich.


The party papers, slogans and their commitments all spoke of class struggle, internationalism and the destruction of bourgeois society, but their practical work was something quite different. The SPD was committed to peaceful struggle, reforms and parliamentary deals. The Party was increasingly being integrated into the state, which now had the ability to grant concessions to the working class. The Party also created a vast network of organizations to mobilize the proletariat, which went beyond the party and trade unions, and according to Pierre Broue,


extended into every sphere of social life: associations of socialist women, the youth movement, people’s universities, libraries and reading societies, leisure organisations and open-air movements, publishing houses, newspapers, journals and magazines. This edifice rested upon the solid framework of a competent, efficient administrative and technical apparatus, experienced in modern methods of management and propaganda. [4]


At the height of the party pyramid, was the Executive, which controlled not only the purse strings, but kept tight discipline on the mass SPD organizations and controlled the nomination of candidates, the careers of full-timers and ran the party like a centralized military machine. However, the Executive was not interested in a revolutionary challenge to the German state, but to increase its electoral impact and to extend their influence amongst conservative strata. This led the Executive to put a lid on internal party conflicts by stressing unity and papering over differences. The trade unions were a conservative influence as well who were more interested in reforms and increasing the standard of living of their members, than in general strikes or insurrection. According to Carl Schorske, in his study of the SPD,


What the party functionary wanted above all else was peace and unity in the organisation. In the riven condition of the party, this made him a natural opponent of both criticism and change. And as the pressure for change came increasingly from the left, the functionary identified himself increasingly with the right. [5]


III. The revisionist controversy


a. Bernstein


If “revisionism” can be associated with any single person, then it would have to be that of Eduard Bernstein. Born in Berlin in 1850, Bernstein joined the Marxist wing of social democracy in 1871 and met both Marx and Engels in 1880. He was highly regarded by both and quickly established himself as a leading orthodox Marxist theoretician in the SPD and editor of the party paper Der Sozialdemokrat. When the SPD was outlawed, Bernstein operated abroad, first in Switzerland and later in England, until he finally returned to Germany in 1901. While in England, Bernstein not only worked closely with Engels, but grew close to the reform-minded Fabian Society. By the time of Engels' death in 1895, Bernstein believed that the time had come to revise Marxist theory to make it conform to the SPD's practice. From 1896 to 1898, he published his ideas in a series of articles for the party press, which unleashed a storm of debate.


Bernstein wanted to end the pretense that Social Democracy was a revolutionary movement by recognizing what it was in practice – a party of social reform. As he said, “the more Social Democracy decides to appear to be what it really is, the more will it improve its prospects of achieving political reforms.”[6] As Bernstein famously declared, "What is generally taken as the goal of socialism is nothing to me, the movement is everything."[7] Bernstein claimed that he was not opposed to the idea of socialism, but rather that the fixation on the aim encouraged impossible demands and adventurism. It was more important to Bernstein that the socialist movement focus on improving the lives of the working class, through labor legislation, democratization of parliament and state, developing cooperatives as opposed to clinging to foolish and outmoded dreams of revolution.


Bernstein based this conclusion not only on the actual political practice of the SPD (discussed above), but the fact that, according to him, Marx's arguments and predictions of capitalist development, class polarization and crises had not borne themselves out. Bernstein's Preconditions of Socialism contains long passages in praise of Marx and Engels for their pioneering economic work. Bernstein writes as a student paying homage to his teachers. However, he leveled a number of criticisms at Marxism - that the labor theory of value was an abstraction and had no bearing on establishing a criteria of justice for distribution.[8] Marx had argued that the only way capital could increase profits was via intensifying the exploitation of workers or through introducing machines. This all led capital to grow more and more concentrated. Yet this was not so. Rather, Bernstein claimed, through the use of facts and figures, that there was actually an increase in the number of property owners. Moreover, giant businesses were not swallowing up smaller and medium-sized ones.[9] Therefore, capital was not growing more concentrated and centralized, which made it impractical to advocate their nationalization.


Bernstein said that Marx's contention that capitalism was subject to general crises of overproduction was false.[10] Nor did Bernstein believe that the lot of workers grew progressively worse or that capitalism was destined to finally collapse, something he said was an “abstract speculation.”[11] Rather, capitalism was expanding with only periodic, and less severe, fluctuations, and the lot of workers was growing better. Furthermore, capitalism had developed “means of adaptation” such as cartels, syndicates, trusts, systems of credit, improved communication and transportation – all of which ended the possibility of severe crises by regulating and rationalizing production.


Therefore, rather than indulge in fantasies of violent revolution, Bernstein believed that it was imperative upon the socialist movement to turn their sights on developing the cooperative movement and using parliament to push for social reforms. He believed that parliament and democracy were adaptable to change and were an alternative to revolution. When Social democrats participates in parliament, this leads the worker to become “a citizen... and thus shares in the common good of the nation…”[12] Bernstein concludes that when the workers share in the life of the nation, they have an interest in the imperial expansion of Germany.


For Bernstein, if the SPD became integrated into the state, then it should discard the internationalist aspects of its program and become supporters of the “civilizing mission” of imperialism:


German Social Democracy would have nothing whatsoever to fear from the colonial policy of the German Reich.... It is not inevitable that the occupation of tropical countries by Europeans should harm the natives of their enjoyment of life, nor has it usually been the case up till now. Moreover, we can recognize only a conditional right of savages to the land they occupy. Higher civilization has ultimately a higher right. It is not conquest but the cultivation of the land that confers an historical right to its use.[13]


Lastly, Bernstein argued that Marxism had become so focused on class, economics and materialism, that they had neglected the importance of beliefs and morality. Socialism needed to be seen as an ethical ideal and not as a material necessity. He believed that it was necessary for Marxists to eschew material interests by returning to Kant with a focus on moral imperatives of gradualism and evolutionary change.[14] Kant was needed because Bernstein believed that Marxism needed to be purged of the influence of Hegel and the dialectic because


Its principles may, under certain circumstances, serve very well to clarify the connections and developments of real objects. They may also have been of great use in the formulation of scientific problems and have provided the impetus for important discoveries. However, as soon as developments are deductively anticipated on the basis of these principles, the danger of arbitrary construction begins. The more complex the object whose development is in question, the greater this danger becomes. When we are dealing with a fairly simple object, experience and reasoned judgement usually ensure that analogies such as 'the negation of the negation' do not mislead us into inherently improbable deductions about its potential transformations. But the more complex an object is, the greater the number of its elements, the more varied their nature and the more diverse their force relations, the less such principles can tell us about its development because all moderation of judgement is lost from view in proportion that deductions are based upon them….

Every time we see the doctrine which proceeds from the economy as the basis of historical development capitulate before the theory which stretches the cult of force to its limits, we find a Hegelian principle.... It does not contradict itself because, on its own account, everything carries its contradictions within itself. Is it a contradiction to put force in the place so recently occupied by the economy? [15]


The introduction of the Hegelian dialectic led Marxism to an embrace of Blanquism which was “the theory of the immeasurable creative power of revolutionary political force and its manifestation, revolutionary expropriation” and could be found in the Communist Manifesto.[16] This leads Bernstein to conclude that “the great things Marx and Engels achieved were achieved not because of Hegelian dialectic but in spite of it. When, on the the other hand, they heedlessly passed over the greatest errors of Blanquism, it is primarily the Hegelian element in their theory that is to blame." [17]


b. Kautsky


One of the foremost challengers of Bernstein's revisionism was the leading theoretician of the SPD and the Second International – Karl Kautsky. Kautsky was originally born in Prague in 1854 and joined the socialist movement while a student in the mid-1870s. Kautsky was subsequently active in the socialist movements of Britain, Switzerland and Germany. In 1880, he joined Bernstein as a co-editor of Der Sozialdemokrat and the following year, he met Karl Marx (who viewed him as a mediocrity). However, Kautsky rose to prominence within the SPD as the editor of Die Neue Zeit (the main theoretical journal) in 1883 and through his close collaboration with Frederick Engels (who viewed him favorably then).


Although Kautsky was not an especially original thinker, he was one of the great popularizers of Marxism during the era of the Second International. His influence in this regard was recognized by figures ranging from Eugene Debs to Trotsky to Lenin. He was the author of a number of works such as The Agrarian Question (1899), The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx (1887) and the Foundations of Christianity (1908). In 1891, Kautsky co-authored the SPD's (Marxist) Erfurt Programme together with August Bebel and Bernstein. The Erfurt Programme's commentary, The Class Struggle (as it is known in English), written by Kautsky was the authoritative statement of Second International Marxism. It went through nineteen editions and at least sixty-seven translations in other languages. Lenin himself thought so highly of the Class Struggle that he personally translated it into Russian.


The Erfurt Programme argued that the contradictions of capitalism would cause the system to break down. Although capitalism brought with it the accumulation, centralization and concentration of capital, the growth of the working class, and sharper divisions between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat - ultimately - the relations of production would cease to foster the development of the productive forces, and this would cause the system to fall into crisis. Kautsky argued that it was the mission of social democracy to tell the workers that their salvation could not be found in capitalism, but only in socialism. To accomplish this task, social democracy had to lead not only the workers, “but of all laboring and exploited classes, or, in other words, of the great majority of the population. We have already seen that the industrial proletariat tends to become the only working-class.”[18] Therefore, it was the task of social democracy to merge their theory with the working class movement and lead it to final victory:


So long, therefore, as the class-struggle of the proletariat was opposed to socialism, So long as it did nothing beyond attempting to improve the position of the proletariat within the framework of existing society, it could not reach its goal. But: a great change came with the amalgamation of socialism and the labor movement. Now the proletariat has a goal toward which it is struggling, which it comes nearer to with every battle. Now all features of the class-struggle have a meaning, even those that produce no immediately practical results. Every effort that preserves or increases the self-consciousness of the proletariat or its spirit of co-operation and discipline, is worth the making.[19]


Without the merger of the working class and revolutionary social democracy, the working class would be reduced to struggling for day-to-day reforms while socialism would remain an impotent sect. This would remain Kautsky's basic vision throughout his political life.


However, Kautsky's orthodoxy viewed the downfall of capitalism as inevitable, arguing that “the capitalist social system has run its course; its dissolution is now only a question of time. Irresistible economic forces lead with the certainty of doom to the shipwreck of capitalist production. The substitution of a new social order for the existing one is no longer simply desirable, it has become inevitable.”[20] Yet this did not lead Kautsky to argue that the workers needed to passively wait for change, he did stress that workers needed to engage in political struggle.


In opposition to Bernstein, Kautsky restated the basic Marxist position of class polarization, the difference between reforms and revolution, and the need for the conquest of power. Yet there was a certain fatalism and passivity in this conception of Marxism. Kautsky viewed Bernstein's revisionism as a theoretical issue and not an organizational one – never broaching the need for a separate organisation.[21] While Kautsky restated Marxist orthodoxy, the SPD continued with an essentially reformist practice.


Kautsky viewed social development as following Darwinian laws of social evolution along a determined course. While Kautsky's Marxism could explain the past and predict the future, it was of little use in the present. There was little conception of the role of self-emancipation of the working class or the role of politics. Kautsky wound up saying that the socialist party was “a revolutionary party, but it is not a party that makes revolutions.”[22] Kautsky's challenge to revisionism was a summary of orthodox theory, but ultimately reformist in practice. By 1910, Kautsky was counseling caution and a strategy of attrition within the SPD as opposed to mass action advocated by Rosa Luxemburg and the revolutionary left leading to a split between them. Kautsky persisted with his perspective, despite all evidence to the contrary, leading to him to adopt a pacifist position during the First World War, opposition to the Russian Revolution (since it was “premature”), passivity in the face of fascism and reconciliation with Bernstein.[23]


c. Rosa Luxemburg


Reflecting on the quality of his opponents, Eduard Bernstein remarked, "Miss Luxemburg...are on the whole among the best of those that were written against me, so far as method is concerned."[24] This was high praise for then 27-year old, Rosa Luxemburg, a revolutionary exile living in Germany. Luxemburg was born in Zamosc, a town in Poland, then under the rule of the Russian Empire. Despite her family's modest means, she was acquainted with books and learned Russian, German and Polish. At the age of five, Luxemburg suffered from a hip ailment that left her with a permanent limp. In 1886, while still a teenager, she became a Marxist and a member of the Proletariat Party. In 1893, the Proletariat Party would become the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) and she would be its leading theoretician.


In 1889, to escape the police, she went abroad to Switzerland - an important emigre center for Poles and Russians. Luxemburg attended university in Zurich, where she studied natural sciences, mathematics and economics while taking part in the labor and revolutionary movement. In 1897, she published her dissertation, "The Industrial Development of Poland" and became one of the few women in Zurich to hold a doctorate. The following year, she moved to Germany to be a part of the socialist movement as a writer and an organizer. By the time Luxemburg arrived, the revisionist controversy had already erupted within the SPD and she jumped right in.


In 1898, Luxemburg wrote Social Reform or Revolution, a defense of revolutionary Marxism and a fierce critique of Bernstein's revisionism. The work is noted for its rhetorical skill, depth of Marxist theory and advocacy of revolutionary struggle. Luxemburg argues that at the heart of revisionism is the claim that capitalism had successfully adapted itself and could avoid breakdown and collapse. She took on the examples that Bernstein gave of adaptation to capitalism – cartels, syndicates, credit system, etc - and said that far from mitigating the contradictions of capitalism, they actually intensify them. In regards to systems of credit, she claimed that it


constitutes the technical means of making available to an entrepreneur the capital of other owners. It stimulates at the same time the bold and unscrupulous utilization of the property of others. That is, it leads to speculation. Credit not only aggravates the crisis in its capacity as a dissembled means of exchange, it also helps to bring and extend the crisis by transforming all exchange into an extremely complex and artificial mechanism that, having a minimum of metallic money as a real is easily disarranged at the slightest occasion. We see that credit, instead of being an instrument for the suppression or the attenuation of crises, is on the contrary a particularly mighty instrument for the formation of crises.[25]


Furthermore, cartels, increase the antagonism not just between workers and capitalists, but those of producers and consumers. Cartels exist to hold back the fall of the rate of profit by stifling competition in a given branch of industry. All these forms of combination and “adaptation” wind up escalating contradictions within the world economy and sharpen the struggle between different capitalist states. So, none of the new developments within capitalism brought an end to crises, but herald new and deeper ones.


In regards to the disappearance of small and medium-sized industry, Luxemburg says that Bernstein misunderstands this development. The role of small industry is to serve as pioneers of technical innovation and new methods of production. Bernstein's mechanical theory means that he is unable to see “the necessity of crises as well as the necessity of new placements of small and middle-sized capitals. And that is why the constant reappearance of small capital seems to him to be the sign of the cessation of capitalist development though, it is, in fact, a symptom of normal capitalist development.” [26]


Luxemburg also took issue with the claim that socialism would come about via parliamentary legislation. She said that ordinary capitalist development was laying the basis of socialization. This was the great discovery of the socialist movement which changed it from “an "ideal" dream by humanity for thousands of years to a thing of historic necessity.”[27] However, in regards to its practice, the socialist party was committed to day-to-day reforms, not the downfall of capitalist rule. While capitalism economically develops the preconditions for socialism, on the other hand, “its political and juridical relations established between capitalist society and socialist society a steadily rising wall.”[28] A socialist revolution was needed to shatter this wall.


Lastly, Bernstein denied the intensification of the contradictions of capitalism because revisionism “does not propose to suppress these contradictions through a revolutionary transformation. It wants to lessen, to attenuate, the capitalist contradictions.”[29] If capitalism did not generate the economic preconditions and material need for socialism, then it was just a dream and nothing more:


It is not true that socialism will arise automatically from the daily struggle of the working class. Socialism will be the consequence of (1) the growing contradictions of capitalist economy and (2) the comprehension by the working class of the unavailability of the suppression of these contradictions through a social transformation. When, in the manner of revisionism, the first condition is denied and the second rejected, the labor movement finds itself reduced to a simple cooperative and reformist movement. We move here in a straight line toward the total abandonment of the class viewpoint. [30]


What Luxemburg concluded was that by giving up the final aim of revolution, in favour of reform, the revisionists were not arguing for a different goal to the same end, but settling for surface modifications of capitalism:


That is why people who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer, and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society. If we follow the political conceptions of revisionism, we arrive at the same conclusion that is reached when we follow the economic theories of revisionism. Our program becomes not the realization of socialism, but the reform of capitalism: not the suppression of the system of wage labor, but the diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of the suppression of capitalism itself.[31]


Luxemburg argued that the focus for the proletariat was not the struggle for reforms, but the seizure of power. For one, the existing state was not representative of the “"rising working class." It is itself the representative of capitalist society. It is a class state.”[32] This implied a different method for social democracy – one of revolutionary struggle, not chasing after parliamentary deals. It was only through this road that the rule of the working class could be established.


However, Bernstein in condemning the conquest of power as “Blanquist” forgets that the aim of all rising classes is the seizure of power. And Luxemburg says that Bernstein's warning against the working class seizing power 'prematurely' leads revisionism to the following conclusion: “His theory condemns the proletariat, at the most decisive moments of the struggle, to inactivity, to a passive betrayal of its own cause.”[33] The practice of revisionism, Luxemburg says is opposed to Marxist theory because that theory shows the limits of revisionist practice and their aim of a 'better' capitalism. Revisionism is simply interested in “practical results” and wants to be freed from the “limitations” imposed by Marxist theory and revolutionary struggle. And the end result, as we have stated, is that revisionism is incompatible with Marxism – its goal is to “push the labor movement into bourgeois paths [and] to paralyze completely the proletarian class struggle.” [34]


IV. 1914[35]


Bernstein's revisionism was voted down by the SPD in 1901 and 1903, as well as by the 1904 Congress of the Second International. However, the formal victory of orthodox Marxism was hollow since the party continued with its reformist practice. Many within the SPD bureaucracy and apparatus shared the views of Bernstein, but they were not as honest and forthright as him. As the SPD secretary Ignaz Auer, wrote to Bernstein in 1899, “My dear Ede, one does not formally make a decision to do the things you suggest, one doesn’t say such things, one simply does them.”[36] For them, Marxism provided an apocalyptic vision and a dogma used to mobilize the party faithful during election season and to raise funds for the organization. This pattern of revolutionary orthodoxy shielding reformist practice was repeated throughout the parties of the Second International.


And there was also a certain attraction to orthodoxy. If pressed, the various anti-revisionists of the Second International, whether Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky or Kautsky would have defended their position as in line with orthodox Marxism and representing a continuity with the revolutionary politics of Marx and Engels. The mask of orthodoxy helped to consolidate the many socialist parties and the International by giving them a grand mission and seemingly pointed the way forward. Yet orthodox Marxism was barren in practice. Revisionism was an effort to challenge this stagnation, but only to tear the revolutionary heart out of Marxism. By contrast, what was needed, and did indeed occur after 1914 and 1917, was the need for a revolutionary break with previous Marxist orthodoxy.


Part of the sterility of orthodoxy was not just the transformation of Marxism into a series of mechanical laws, but flowed from its very success as well. The Second International encompassed dozens of socialist parties and millions of adherents. As these parties expanded, there was a definite need for popularizing Marxist theory, but it was often done at a shallow level and did not respond to bourgeois influences in the social sciences or philosophy.[37] And this popularization of Marxism was done in the context of a largely non-revolutionary political situation. While there was a formal commitment to revolution, it was devoid of a connection to any radical practice. It was largely in “backward” countries of Europe which opened up different strategies for social democracy.


Revolutionary theory doesn't necessarily equal its popularization. Nor was there some correct synthesis of “pure” orthodox Marxism that can just be adopted to provide the one true path to revolution. Rather, each moment possesses its own constellation of objective and subjective conditions that require their own specific interventions. An orthodox popularization of “Marxist science” was not adequate to the class struggle, if science is taught as religion and dogma, what is taught is not science, but religion and dogma.


The shortcomings of orthodox Marxism became glaring when the parties of the Second International voted to support “their” governments' participation in World War I. This was the logical result of revisionism, not an easier road to socialism, but capitulation to imperialism. Yet orthodox Marxists had no answer about how to respond to this crisis. Kautsky had remarked in retrospect, “It is amazing that none of us who were there had the idea of raising the question: What to do if war breaks out? What attitude should the Socialist parties take in this war?”[38] And it was only natural that in this moment of crisis and betrayal that stalwart revolutionaries such as Lenin, Trotsky or Luxemburg either despaired or even believed that socialist capitulation was a fabrication. Yet the full bloom of revisionism in 1914 also showed that the time had come for a split from its dead corpse. As Zizek observed: “T S Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is the one between heresy and non-belief, when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse.”[39]


Revisionism and, by extension orthodoxy, by accepting the terrain of legal and acceptable struggle had limited themselves to what they could achieve within capitalism. They refused to seriously consider the development of revolutionary politics as opposed to the defense of the bourgeois state. Ultimately, the revisionist objection to revolutionary events such as the October Revolution was not because of violence, illegality, conspiracy, or being 'premature'. The revisionists and orthodox Marxists supported the violence of the First World War and rallying to the bourgeois state, but as Bernstein said, the brutality of colonialism was a positive good in pursuit of a “higher civilization.” What the revisionists objected to was not violence in the abstract, but the revolutionary violence of the oppressed and the exploited. Addressing revisionist retort that Bolshevism was Blanquist, Trotsky answered: “The revisionists label the revolutionary content of Marxism with the word Blanquism, the more easily to enable them to fight against Marxism."[40] Revisionism denies the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, while defending the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.


Both Luxemburg and Lenin broke with Second International Marxism in 1914 with their insistence on class struggle and the overthrow of imperialism. However, it was Lenin, far more than Luxemburg, who provided the basis for the re-foundation of Marxism by arguing for the primacy of politics, strategy, and the active role of the vanguard party. He also broke with Luxemburg and the revisionists, by supporting the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities and colonies.


Whereas Luxemburg argued that capitalism was prone to breakdown and collapse in the Accumulation of Capital[41], Lenin stressed the opposite:


This is a mistake. There is no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation. The bourgeoisie are behaving like barefaced plunderers who have lost their heads; they are committing folly after folly, thus aggravating the situation and hastening their doom. All that is true. But nobody can “prove” that it is absolutely impossible for them to pacify a minority of the exploited with some petty concessions, and suppress some movement or uprising of some section of the oppressed and exploited. To try to “prove” in advance that there is “absolutely” no way out of the situation would be sheer pedantry, or playing with concepts and catchwords. Practice alone can serve as real “proof” in this and similar questions. All over the world, the bourgeois system is experiencing a tremendous revolutionary crisis. The revolutionary parties must now “prove” in practice that they have sufficient understanding and organisation, contact with the exploited masses, and determination and skill to utilise this crisis for a successful, a victorious revolution. [42]


By contrast, Lenin argued for revolutionary politics in the shape of the vanguard party capable of intervening between subjective and objective factors. It was the task of the party to organize and lead the masses, to take advantage of a revolutionary situation, and to focus on the conquest of power. For Lenin, and Luxemburg, a Marxist was not one who one who recognized the class struggle (even Bernstein did that), but “those who recognize only the class struggle are not yet Marxists; they may be found to be still within the bounds of bourgeois thinking and bourgeois politics. To confine Marxism to the theory of the class struggle means curtailing Marxism, distorting it, reducing it to something acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat."[43]


As Eduard Bernstein himself recognized, revisionism was in contradiction to the revolutionary essence of Marxism: “the Bolsheviks are not altogether unjustified in claiming Marx as their own. Marx, you know, had a strong Bolshevik streak in him.”[44] Rather, revisionism is the abandonment of Marxism and the acceptance of bourgeois politics. Orthodox Marxism was not an alternative to revisionism, but was sterile and devoid of revolutionary practice. Rather, anti-revisionism, as practised by Lenin and Luxemburg, was not orthodox, but a rupture with exhausted methods and the development of revolutionary theory and practice.


V. Socialism in one country[45]


Despite the victory of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the establishment of communist parties committed to revolutionary politics, the revisionist parties of the Second International did not go away. Although some social democratic parties suffered significant revolutionary splits (ex. Germany) or went over to the Comintern either in part or whole-scale (ex. Italy and France), in general social democracy held onto the allegiance of the majority of the working class. Nowhere did social democracy take advantage of the revolutionary openings that revealed themselves in the aftermath of World War I. In Austria, social democracy refused to risk a seizure of power, maintaining a defensive posture that ultimately led to their defeat in 1934 following a short-lived civil war; abdicating leadership of a working class movement in Italy in 1919-20; and, most notoriously, in Germany the SPD used the army and right-wing death squads to murder revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and put down the workers' councils. By 1923, the revolutionary wave passed and bourgeois rule had been stabilized throughout Europe with the active collusion of revisionist social democracy.


The defeat of the European revolution left the Soviet Republic isolated and alone. For Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks, the Russian Revolution was not viewed as just a Russian event, but seen as a prelude to world revolution – especially in the advanced capitalist countries. In March 1918, Lenin had declared, “It is absolutely true that without a German revolution we will perish. We will perish perhaps not in Petersburg nor in Moscow, but in Vladivostok, or some other remote place whither we will have to retreat but in any case, under all possible or conceivable eventualities, if the German revolution does not begin, we perish.”[46] This was in line with previous Marxist thinking on the subject which did not envision the creation of socialism in an isolated backward country with a small working class.


Events had not gone as Lenin and the Bolsheviks had foreseen or hoped. Not only had revolutionary outbreaks been defeated or contained everywhere outside of Russia, but by the 1920s, the USSR was a ruined and devastated country with a declassed working class, a hostile peasantry, and a merged party and state - who were increasingly separated from the masses. International revolution was on the immediate agenda and Russia had to deal with prolonged isolation. This brought to the fore the question of whether or not to build “socialism in one country” - where the USSR would develop a modern industrial society, deliver the people from backwardness and face the perils of capitalist encirclement.[47]


The debate over “socialism in one country” led to another struggle against “revisionism.” However in contrast to what occurred within the SPD, both Trotsky and Stalin claimed the mantle of revolutionary Marxism to defend their respective positions. However, the debate over socialism in one country showed, similarly to Second International Marxism, that the revolutionary movement in fact contained different trends and that the dominant one appealed to orthodoxy and codified that orthodoxy into a doctrine.


In order to defend socialism in one country and its political legitimacy, the Bolshevik Party under the direction of Stalin built up a cult of Lenin. According to Isaac Deutscher, “The propaganda department worked full blast to establish that cult of Lenin under which Lenin's writings were to be quoted as Gospel against all dissent and criticism, the cult which was designed primarily as an 'ideological weapon' against Trotskyism.”[48] Trotskyism was created in the course of the factional struggle in order to pillory opponents of the new course as “revisionists” and “anti-Leninists.”


While Trotsky had a better claim in Marxist doctrine in rejecting socialism in one country, Stalin needed to tar opponents as revisionists and lacking faith in the ability of the USSR to build up socialism. According to Stalin, “Trotskyism is a Social-Democratic deviation in our Party” that was both petty bourgeois and a revision of Leninism. Stalin said that the issue with Trotskyism was “an we or can we not completely lay a socialist foundation for our economy by our own efforts? The Party affirms that we are in a position to completely lay a socialist foundation for our economy. The opposition denies this, and thereby slides into defeatism and capitulationism.”[49] This led Stalin to argue that the charge of revisionism directed against socialism in one country was misplaced since the Trotskyist Opposition was more concerned with doctrinal purity than dealing with concrete circumstances:


The reason, it appears, is that "revision" means "reconsidering," and old formulas cannot be improved or made more precise without to some extent reconsidering them, and, consequently, every refinement and improvement of old formulas, every enrichment of Marxism by new experience and new formulas is revisionism. [50]


Stalin goes on and says that such a conception of revisionism dooms Marxism to stagnation and


that any improvement of individual propositions and formulas of any of the Marxist classics is revisionism.


What is Marxism? Marxism is a science. Can Marxism persist and develop as a science if it is not enriched by the new experience of the class struggle of the proletariat, if it does not digest this experience from the standpoint of Marxism, from the point of view of the Marxist method? Clearly, it cannot.[51]


Stalin admitted that the old formulas of Marx and Engels were out of date. Whereas Engels had written that it was impossible for socialism to exist in one country, not only was that now possible, but Stalin says, “if Engels were alive today, he would not cling to the old formula. On the contrary, he would welcome our revolution and say: to hell with all old formulas! Long live the victorious revolution in the Soviet Union! The gentlemen in the ranks of the Social Democracy, however, do not think like that. They cling to the old formulation of Engels in order to facilitate their struggle against the revolution, against the Bolsheviks.”[52] Naturally, in the minds of Stalin and many party members, Trotsky and the Left Opposition fell into the category of revisionists and social democrats with their opposition to building socialism in one country, which seemingly implied surrender to the international bourgeoisie.


While Stalin could, arguably, portray socialism in one country as a theoretical advance in light of new concrete conditions, that is not all he did. Rather, Stalin claimed to be following in Lenin's footsteps, to be his best pupil and the executor of his will.[53] This led to the development of the cult of Lenin and Leninism. Leninism became, in time, not a theory of revolution, but a codified doctrine and dogma. As Deutscher put it, Marxism-Leninism as it developed in the USSR was an orthodoxy that “served to exploit the moral authority of an inherited doctrine in the interest of the ruling group, to disguise the fact that that doctrine offered no clear answers to new problems, to reinterpret its tenets, to kill dissent or doubt, and to discipline the faithful. It was vain to search Lenin's writings for solutions to the problems of the day.” [54]


Marxism-Leninism eventually became the new reigning orthodoxy both inside the USSR and its allied communist parties. However, it was no longer a vibrant theory of revolution, but a state religion, a dogma and infallible science used to justify the requirements of whatever the policy the leadership needed it to. Soviet Marxism-Leninism was deterministic, mechanical and economistic. To challenge the line of Marxism-Leninism, as Trotsky and others did, was to risk being hounded as a revisionist or as an enemy of the people. The clearest example of this orthodoxy and codification was set forth in the History of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): The Short Course in 1938 which portrayed the history of the party as the march to victory of the finished and ready-made doctrine of Lenin-Stalin whereas all deviations (whether Trotsky, Bukharin, or others) were not merely heretical, but enemies of the people in league with hostile capitalist powers. The Marxism-Leninism of the Short Course was where the Party under the leadership of Stalin marched ever onward on the path to communist victory.[55] It would not be remiss to describe the Short Course as a “Communist Bible” with all of its scholasticism, orthodoxy, dogma, pseudo-history, deterministic philosophy and the damnation of all dissenters from the (always) correct party line.[56]


And while the USSR, by following socialism in one country, did develop modern industry, a planned economy and collectivize agriculture (all with great costs), the regime grew more conservative as time passed – rolling back gains in culture, women's liberation and promoting Russian nationalism. Soviet socialism grew more focused on developing the productive forces, with more and bigger factories and larger steel outputs, as opposed to uprooting age old oppressions. Furthermore, the leadership of the party and state became divorced from the masses and bureaucratized. According to Soviet Marxism-Leninism, by the mid-1930s, there were no antagonistic contradictions under socialism, but any dissension was caused by enemy agents who needed to be eliminated.


The theory of “socialism in one country” appealed to many Bolsheviks as a realistic alternative by the mid-1920s because world revolution seemed so far away. Yet, Stalin “was determined to make the sacred egoism of the ‘only proletarian State in the world’ the guiding idea of international communism as well. Whenever the interests of foreign communism clashed or appeared to clash with those of the Soviet Union, he sacrificed foreign communism.”[57] In the USSR and its allied parties, the politics of anti-revisionism and adherence to revolutionary politics were emptied of their content, instead serving as a mask to justify cold conservative realpolitik.


VI. “Modern Revisionism”


Internationally, except for small left trends such as Trotskyism, the majority of self-described communists identified with Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy which was promulgated by the Comintern. Yet the USSR's claim to uphold the banner of anti-revisionism and revolutionary communism would be challenged within its own camp following World War II and the death of Stalin in 1953. No longer isolated and surrounded by hostile capitalist powers, the USSR was joined by similar regimes in Eastern Europe, North Korea, Vietnam and China. The Chinese Revolution of 1949 was the second great revolution of the twentieth century, brining Marxism-Leninism to power in the world's most populous state. Yet Chinese Marxism-Leninism was far removed from the Soviet variety in many respects.


While the Chinese Communist Party played lip service to Comintern dictates and orthodoxy, it had in fact operated independently since 1935 with the installation of Mao Zedong as its leader. Mao's rise to a commanding position in the CCP came after the defeats of the revolution in the urban centers in 1927 – attributable to both wrong Comintern policy and advice along with an inept party leadership unwilling to challenge it.[58] The defeated communists retreated to the countryside, organized the peasantry and waged revolutionary warfare. For the next two decades, the CCP transformed itself from a small band of fugitives into a mass movement of millions. In the process, the Chinese had to develop a revolution which did not fit within the existing parameters of Marxist-Leninist theory. Mao creatively applied and developed revolutionary theory within the CCP such as New Democracy, mass line, two-line struggle (as opposed to a monolithic party) and People's War. He also struggled with his orthodox opponents such as Wang Ming and correcting mistaken policies in the CCP through the Yenan Rectification Campaign. At the same time, Mao was still operating within the framework of Soviet Marxism-Leninism and accepted many of its key components (such as socialism in one country).


Following the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the new government sought to build a state and economy on the Soviet model. This led to slavish copying by the CCP of Soviet methods of planning, industrialization, neglect of agriculture with their bureaucratic, conservative and authoritarian tendencies which encouraged a breach between the party and the masses alongside the growth of inequality. In time, these tendencies would lead Mao to fear the growth of capitalist restorationist elements within both the party and state. Parallel to that, there was a change of line within the USSR following the death of Stalin and the new leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. In a secret speech delivered in 1956, Khrushchev denounced the crimes of Stalin and introduced a new international line for the communist movement. Mao believed that Khrushchev's speech was a right wing critique of Stalin and not a Marxist one. Furthermore, Mao believed that Khrushchev's speech was also a cover for a new revisionist line within the communist movement.


The Chinese soon found their relations with the USSR worsening, not only because of the new line, but over different conceptions of how to build socialism. By the mid-1960s, there was an open rupture between the USSR and China as both contended for leadership of the international communist movement. For the Chinese, they traced their differences with the USSR to 1956 when Khrushchev


aimed at erasing the indelible influence of [Stalin] among the people of the Soviet Union and throughout the world, and at paving the way for negating Marxism-Leninism, which Stalin had defended and developed, and for the all-out application of a revisionist line. Their revisionist line began exactly with the 20th Congress and became fully systematized at the 22nd Congress.[59]


The new international line promoted by the USSR consisted of three parts. The first was “peaceful coexistence” between socialist and capitalist countries; the second was “peaceful competition” whereby the existing contradictions between socialism and capitalism would be resolved peacefully through economic competition between the two systems; lastly, “peaceful transition” where capitalism would give way to socialism through parliament and the ballot box as opposed to a violent revolutionary struggle.


The Chinese were forthright in condemning the new line, stating:


If the general line of the international communist movement is onesidedly reduced to "peaceful coexistence", "peaceful competition" and "peaceful transition", this is to violate the revolutionary principles of the 1957 Declaration and the 1960 Statement, to discard the historical mission of proletarian world revolution, and to depart from the revolutionary teachings of Marxism-Leninism.[60]


According to the Chinese CP, the USSR was now ruled by “modern revisionists” (ideological descendants of Bernstein) who “have completely betrayed the revolutionary spirit of Marxism-Leninism, betrayed the interests of the people.”[61] The Soviet revisionists were also serving to lead the masses of workers away from revolutionary struggle because social democracy was no longer to perform that role, which made them ultimately, “the agents of imperialism and the enemies of the proletariat and working people of all countries.”[62] In place of the Soviet line, the CCP advocated a revolutionary line that argued while


it is one thing to practice peaceful coexistence between countries with different social systems. It is absolutely impermissible and impossible for countries practicing peaceful coexistence to touch even a hair of each other's social system. The class struggle, the struggle for national liberation and the transition from capitalism to socialism in various countries are quite another. thing. They are all bitter, life-and-death revolutionary struggles which aim at changing the social system. Peaceful coexistence cannot replace the revolutionary struggles of the people. The transition from capitalism to socialism in any country can only be brought about through the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat in that country.[63]


The Chinese call for revolutionary struggle as opposed to deals with imperialism found receptive ears throughout the world. Inside the existing Moscow-line Communist Parties, there were cadre who embraced an anti-revisionist line - seeking to either change the parties or, failing that, breaking off and forming new “Marxist-Leninist” organizations. Many of these pro-Mao splits were not only reacting to what they saw as the “revisionism” of the USSR, but also the conservative and reformist policies of their CPs which were often indistinguishable from social democracy despite their professed orthodoxy. For instance, the Communist Party of France did not back the May 1968 General Strike which could have become a bid for power, but instead sought to use the struggle to leverage for wage increases and a new electoral coalition with the Socialists. In the United States, the Communist Party condemned any display of militancy or radicalism, whether that of black nationalism, the anti-war movement, or women's liberation - seeing politics as only what is acceptable to the Democratic Party and the union bureaucracy.


New communist organizations, claiming the mantle of either Marxist-Leninist or Mao Tse-tung Thought (sometimes both), were open to new possibilities and determined to make revolution. Yet these parties were often beset by the same contradictions as previous anti-revisionist movements. On the one hand, many upheld the Chinese line because they saw Mao as an orthodox defender of Stalin and the 1930s Comintern politics. This led these organizations to apply mechanical and dogmatic adaptations of previous modes of “Marxism-Leninism” to their own struggles. However, there were other anti-revisionists who saw Mao and the Chinese Revolution as something new which was a break with the old Soviet and Comintern models. In France, some anti-revisionists groups took up struggles that were not narrowly focused on industrial workers, but organized amongst prisoners, women, gays, and immigrants. Other anti-revisionist groups launched people's wars for revolution in a number of countries such as Turkey, India, and the Philippines (some continuing to this day, while others stagnated, ran aground, or were wiped out by state repression).


The Chinese polemics against “modern revisionism” did not stop with condemnations of “the three peacefuls” but extended to the “two wholes.” At the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the CPSU had adopted a new program which stated that the dictatorship of the proletariat had been superseded in the USSR, meaning that there was now a “state of the whole people” and that the communist party had become “the party of the whole people,”[64] not just representing the working class. According to the Chinese, this was revisionism because “the dictatorship of the proletariat was necessary until communism with the abolition of all class differences and the entry into a classless society…”[65] For communists, it was impossible for there to be a state of the whole people because “so long as the state remains a state, it must bear a class character; so long as the state exists, it cannot be a state of the "whole people."[66] The CPSU line of the “state of the whole people” was similar to bourgeois arguments which claimed that their states were not class states, but representative of the whole people. Contrary to the Soviets, the Chinese argued that class contradictions do not end within the socialist countries, rather they continued. Therefore, the dictatorship of the proletariat was needed because there are still


remnants of the old exploiting classes who are trying to stage a comeback still exist there, since new capitalist elements are constantly being generated there, and since there are still parasites, speculators, idlers, hooligans, embezzlers of state funds, etc., how can it be said that classes or class struggles no longer exist? How can it be said that the dictatorship of the proletariat is no longer necessary?[67]


This led Mao and the CCP to offer a drastically different critique of Stalin than Khrushchev and the USSR. On the one hand, Mao defended Stalin as a great Marxist-Leninist and said that tossing away his contributions was opening the door to a renunciation of Leninism.[68] On the other hand, the Chinese argued that Stalin had committed many mistakes:


Stalin departed from dialectical materialism and fell into metaphysics and subjectivism on certain questions and consequently he was sometimes divorced from reality and from the masses. In struggles inside as well as outside the Party, on certain occasions and on certain questions he confused two types of contradictions which are different in nature, contradictions between ourselves and the enemy and contradictions among the people, and also confused the different methods needed in handling them. In the work led by Stalin of suppressing the counter-revolution, many counter-revolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished, but at the same time there were innocent people who were wrongly convicted; and in 1937 and 1938 there occurred the error of enlarging the scope of the suppression of counter-revolutionaries. In the matter of Party and government organization, he did not fully apply proletarian democratic centralism and, to some extent, violated it. In handling relations with fraternal Parties and countries, he made some mistakes. He also gave some bad counsel in the international communist movement. These mistakes caused some losses to the Soviet Union and the international communist movement.[69]


Based on this understanding, Mao developed and summed up the experiences not only of Lenin, but even more so, of Stalin, by breaking with their assumptions about classes, class struggle under socialism, the nature of capitalist restoration, antagonistic and non-antagonist contradictions, and the nature of the capitalist restoration. In his 1957 work, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People, Mao argued that not only did contradictions continue to exist under socialism (both antagonistic and non-antagonistic), but that class struggle continued as well, but it could take new forms:


The class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the class struggle between the various political forces, and the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the ideological field will still be protracted and tortuous and at times even very sharp. The proletariat seeks to transform the world according to its own world outlook, and so does the bourgeoisie. In this respect, the question of which will win out, socialism or capitalism, is not really settled yet.[70]


In another work, A Critique of Soviet Economics, Mao criticized Soviet methods of planning for focusing strictly on developing the economic base and ignoring the superstructure. He went on and criticized the Soviets for denying the role of contradictions under socialism and not combating bourgeois survivals which remained in the superstructure that conflicted with new socialist political, cultural and ideological ideas. Soviet economism and an inability to recognize and deal with contradictions meant that their planning was bureaucratic and commandist with a focus on the development of heavy industry which distorted the economy as opposed to a more balanced approach. [71]


Mao's critique was not just focused on the USSR, but on similar trends he saw developing within China. For him, it became clearer throughout the 1960s that there were those within the CCP who sought to return to capitalism.


What Mao came to recognize as the 1960s wore on was not just that there were those in the Chinese party and state who sought a return to capitalism, but they needed to be combated. This culminated in the Cultural Revolution which was launched in May 1966, whose purpose was described in the 16 Points as follows:


Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavour to stage a comeback. The proletariat must do the exact opposite: it must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and overthrow those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic “authorities” and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art and all other parts of the superstructure not in correspondence with the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.[72]


The Cultural Revolution was the completion of Mao's struggle against revisionism within the CCP by rallying the masses inside and outside of the party to overthrow the capitalist roaders. The Cultural Revolution, while fraught with abuses, persecution chaos, and factionalism, also brought drastic changes in factory management with greater involvement of the masses, changes in the planning structure, a major revamping of education, and changes in arts. [73]


Mao and the Chinese Revolution's struggle against revisionism led the French communist philosopher, Louis Althusser, to conclude that they had provided the first living critique of the Soviet experience and Stalinism:


If we look back over our whole history of the last forty years or more, it seems to me that, in reckoning up the account (which is not an easy thing to do), the only historically existing (left) 'critique' of the fundamentals of the 'Stalinian deviation' to be found - and which, moreover, is contemporary with this very deviation, and thus for the most part precedes the Twentieth Congress - is a concrete critique, one which exists in the facts, in the struggle, in the line, in the practices, their principles and their forms, of the Chinese Revolution.[74]


Mao's struggle against revisionism entailed not merely upholding a revolutionary road against for the international communist movement against the “three peacefuls,” but posed sharp questions over the very nature of socialism in three areas. For one, socialism was the class rule of the proletariat (and its allied classes) over the bourgeois and other (old and new) exploiting classes. Advocating a state of the whole people denies that classes continue to exist under socialism. Secondly, socialism is a mode of production where social ownership replaces that of private ownership. Lastly, socialism is a period of transition where there class struggles and social changes with the goal of eliminating classes and class distinctions, but that the outcome was not certain and that the either capitalist restoration or continued advance to communism were possible. This vision was in line with Marx who said:


This socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations.[75]


For Mao, anti-revisionism was simply not a defense of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, but going further to criticize the USSR's experience, recognizing that socialism itself was a road that can go either back to capitalism or forward to communism. Furthermore, to oppose revisionism meant challenging the “theory of the productive forces” which


treated social transformation purely as an issue of the development of the productive forces. It completely ignored that the relations of production react back upon the development of the productive forces, and that the superstructure reacts upon the economic base. It ignored the principle of historical materialism that in class society social transformation can be realized only through class struggle.[76]


To Mao, “revisionism” is false communism. It is a bourgeois current within the workers’ movement that “revises” and distorts the fundamental principles of Marxism - as regards the nature of capitalism, political revolution, and socialism/communism. Revisionism guts Marxism of its emancipatory heart. It appeals to workers on a basis of reformism and narrow material interest. And its aim and effect is to perpetuate capitalism in the imperialist countries and the third world, or in socialist countries, to restore it. Even under the Marxist banner, revisionism is capitalism disguised as socialism.


It needs to be stressed that Mao's struggle in the 1960s and 1970s against revisionism was a developing and open one. While he was an unorthodox thinker within the ranks of Comintern Marxism-Leninism, he did accept a great deal of their basic framework. The USSR was said to have only “changed its color” and restored capitalism in 1956 following a revisionist coup. Yet there is precious little evidence that the law of value was a guiding force in USSR until the end of its existence. Arguably, the USSR was not a socialist country under Khrushchev, but that doesn't necessarily make it a capitalist one. There is a certain level of idealism in believing that simply changing a leader results in a whole-scale change in the mode of production of a country. And while Mao was correct in his criticism of “the three peacefuls,” he attributes them to Khrushchev, when in actuality, such policies can be seen as a continuation of those pursued by Stalin dating at least from the era of the Popular Front. And the Chinese, despite their correct criticism of the USSR's foreign conduct, disputably engaged in far worse actions, often supporting local despots or aligning with US imperialism after they viewed the USSR as the greatest danger in the world. Chinese foreign policy which often led Maoists abroad to defend every twist and turn (a few even backing NATO to counter “Soviet social imperialism”) and the drastic changes in China after Mao's death caused many of these parties to implode or to lose their way. And the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution did not prevent the triumph of those Mao deemed to be “revisionists” following his death. There remain many unanswered questions about why the Cultural Revolution ended in defeat – the roles of Mao and Deng, how deep were the social changes, etc – that cannot be pursued here. In other words, the Chinese anti-revisionism did not go far enough.


VII. Conclusion


Maoism proper would only be codified as a new state of Marxism following Mao's death when the term was first proposed by the Peruvian Communist Party in 1984 and later by adopted in 1993 by parties associated with the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement who previously adhered to “Mao Tse-tung Thought.”[77] In justifying the adoption of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as a new stage of Marxism, the 1993 Declaration declares


it is the ideology of the proletariat synthesized and developed to new stages...on the basis of the experience of the proletariat and mankind in class struggle, the struggle for production and scientific experiment. It is the invincible weapon which enables the proletariat to understand the world and change it through revolution. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a universally applicable, living and scientific ideology, constantly developing and being further enriched through its application in making revolution as well as through the advance of human knowledge generally. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is the enemy of all forms of revisionism and dogmatism. It is all-powerful because it is true.[78]


However, if the current state of the Maoist movement is any indication, then the danger of orthodoxy codification and popularization for antirevisionists remain. Some Maoist movements remain engaged in people's wars such as in the Philippines and India, although their victory is a long way off. The Nepalese Maoists, after fighting a people's war for ten years, managed to achieve a stalemate, and large portions of the movement accepted integration into the apparatus of a bourgeois republic. Other Maoist groups have descended into sectarian irrelevance. And lastly, many of the most strident anti-revisionists of the 1970s, such as those of France and the USA, have themselves became defenders of anti-communism, imperialist “humanitarian intervention,” Democratic Party politicians or NGO activists opposed to any and all forms of radicalism.


As we have seen, previous forms of Marxism, even when a revolutionary rupture with revisionism, can turn into new orthodoxies and dogmas, which show their exhaustion by adopting, in either theory or practice, the politics of revisionism. The Marxist struggle against revisionism, in fact is never finished, since Marxism needs to be continually renewed through ruptures not only with revisionism and orthodoxy, but by remaining true to its revolutionary soul.




[1] Michel Beaud, A History of Capitalism: 1500-1980 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983) 138. A more detailed view of the trends in European capitalism from 1875 to 1914 can be found in Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), 34-55.
[2] Beaud, 1983, 126-7.
[3] Dietrich Orlow, A History of Modern Germany 1871 to the Present (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002), 46. The success of the party was not just to be found in electoral results, but also in how the party embraced all aspects of proletariat life. See Hobsbawm, 1987, 131.
[4] Pierre Broue, The German Revolution, 1917-1923 (Boston: Brill, 2005), 14-5.
[5] Quoted in Broue 2005, 23.
[6] Eduard Bernstein, Preconditions of Socialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 188.
[7] Ibid. 5.
[8] Ibid. 55.
[9] Ibid. 69.
[10] Ibid. 87.
[11] Ibid. 90.
[12] Ibid. 164.
[13] Ibid. 168-9.
[14] Ibid. 209.
[15] Ibid. 31 and 46.
[16] Ibid. 38-9.
[17] Ibid. 46.
[18] Karl Kautsky, “The Class Struggle,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Karl Kautsky, “The Class Struggle,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[21] John Rees, Algebra of Revolution: The Dialectic and the Classical Marxist Tradition (New York: Routledge, 1998), 130-38.
[22] Massimo Salvadori, Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution 1880-1938 (New York: Verso Books, 1979), 40. See Karl Kautsky, The Road to Power (Alameda: Center for Socialist History, 2007), 41.
[23] Salvadori 226-7 and 324.
[24] Bernstein 1993, 200.
[25] Rosa Luxemburg, The Essential Rosa Luxemburg (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008), 48.
[26] Ibid. 71.
[27] Ibid. 72.
[28] Ibid. 65.
[29] Ibid. 69.
[30] Ibid. 68.
[31] Ibid. 90.
[32] Ibid. 58.
[33] Ibid. 94.
[34] Ibid. 101.
[35] A great deal of my interpretation of Lenin is based on two pieces of mine: “Blanquism and Leninism,” Cultural Logic. ; At The Crossroads of Blanquism and Leninism (unpublished).
[36] J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 101.
[37]  Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Marxism of Leon Trotsky Chapter One (electronic book in my possession).
[38] Enzo Traverso, Fire And Blood: The European Civil War, 1914-1945 (New York: Verso, 2016), 38.
[39] Slavoj Zizek, Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), 97.
[40] Leon Trotsky, “"Problems of the Chinese Revolution: Second Speech on the Chinese Question," Marxists Internet Archive.
[41] For a critique of Luxemburg's Accumulation of Capital, see Paul Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development: The Principles of Marxian Political Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1962), 202-10.
[42] V. I. Lenin, “The Second Congress of the Communist International,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Quoted in Sidney Hook, Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Interpretation (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2002), 43 [117].
[45] This section draws heavily on my unpublished The Chimes at Midnight: Trotskyism in the USSR 1926-1938.
[46] Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution: Volume III (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967) 393.
[47] Detestably Lenin could be said to be conceiving the possibility of socialism in one country in “Our Revolution,” Marxists Internet Archive.

“Infinitely stereotyped, for instance, is the argument they learned by rote during the development of West-European Social-Democracy, namely, that we are not yet ripe for socialism, but as certain "learned" gentleman among them put it, the objective economic premises for socialism do not exist in our country. Does it not occur to any of them to ask: what about the people that found itself in a revolutionary situation such as that created during the first imperialist war? Might it not, influenced by the hopelessness of its situation, fling itself into a struggle that would offer it at least some chance of securing conditions for the further development of civilization that were somewhat unusual?”
[48] Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 1921-1929 (New York: Verso, 2003), 111.
[49] Stalin also claimed that permanent revolution was a deviation of Leninism:

Trotskyism is the theory of "permanent" (uninterrupted) revolution. But what is permanent revolution in its Trotskyist interpretation? It is revolution that fails to take the poor peasantry into account as a revolutionary force. Trotsky's "permanent" revolution is, as Lenin said, "skipping" the peasant movement, "playing at the seizure of power." Why is it dangerous? Because such a revolution, if an attempt had been made to bring it about, would inevitably have ended in failure, for it would have divorced from the Russian proletariat its ally, the poor peasantry. This explains the struggle that Leninism has been waging against Trotskyism ever since 1905.

J. V. Stalin, “Trotskyism or Leninism?” Marxists Internet Archive.

While Stalin's points against permanent revolution are slanderous, the counter-position of Trotsky's deviation with Leninist orthodoxy helped to marginalize Trotsky's ideas within the party.
[50] J. V. Stalin, “The Seventh Enlarged Plenum of the E.C.C.I.” Marxists Internet Archive.
[51] Ibid.
[52] Robert V. Daniels, ed., A Documentary History of Communism, Volume One: Communism in Russia (London: University Press of New England, 1984), 198.
[53] As an example, here is a selection from Stalin's funeral oration of Lenin which reads like a Christian prayer.


J. V. Stalin, “On the Death of Lenin,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[54] Deutscher 2003, 242.
[55] See Robert Tucker, Stalin in Power: Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990), 526-550.
[56] See J. V. Stalin, “The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[57] Isaac Deutscher, “Russia After Stalin,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[58] For this background, see Harold Isaacs, “The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[59] Communist Party of China, “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement: The Letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in Reply to the Letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of March 30, 1963,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[60] Ibid.
[61] Communist Party of China, “Long Live Leninism!” Marx2Mao.
[62] Ibid.
[63] “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement” [Footnote 59].
[64] “Twenty-Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” Great Soviet Encyclopedia.
[65] “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement” [Footnote 59].
[66] Ibid.
[67] Ibid.
[68] Ibid.
[69]  Chinese Communist Party, “On The Question Of Stalin: Second Comment on the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[70] Mao Zedong, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[71] Mao Zedong, A Critique of Soviet Economics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977).
[72] “Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[73] Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008); Charles Bettelheim, Cultural Revolution and Industrial Organization in China: Changes in Management and the Division of Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974); William Hinton, Turning Point in China: An Essay on the Cultural Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972); E. L. Wheelwright and Bruce MacFarlane, The Chinese Road to Socialism: Economics of the Cultural Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970); Maria Antonietta Macciocchi, Daily Life in Revolutionary China (New York: Monthly Review Press: 1972).
[74] Louis Althusser, Essays in Self-Criticism (New Left Books: London, 1976), 90.
[75] Karl Marx, The Class Struggle in France, 1848-51,” Marxists Internet Archive.
[76] Raymond Lotta, ed., Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism: The Shanghai Textbook (New York: Banner Press, 1993), 18.
[77] For this debate see, Gustvo Gorriti, The Shining Path: A History of the Milenarian War in Peru (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 129-30.
[78] Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” BannedThought.

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