Marxism Today: Key differences between Marxism and revisionism
Marxism holds a number of key principles that are crucially important.
1. The working class needs a party of a new type, that is, a Communist Party. The question of the form of such an organisation is vital. A Communist Party is not some amorphous body which anybody can join by filling in a coupon and for any reason whatsoever. It is a well organised and disciplined organisation that is selective about its membership. This is not about elitism, but about ensuring that Party members are of sufficient quality, in an organisation that places demands on individuals in connection with their activity, a grasp of the Party’s ideology and acceptance of the Party program and preparedness to work and live with the people whose interests they represent.
Every member is required to put ideology in command, belong to a Party organisation and pay Party dues. This is an organisation of activists and not commentators. Although in each country and time there are some unique characteristics, there are some general principles that Lenin elaborated so well in his monumental works What Is To Be Done and One Step Forward and Two Steps Back. Stalin accurately summarised what Lenin had to say under these headings in his Foundations of Leninism.
a. The Party is the vanguard of the working class
b. The Party is the organised detachment of the working class
c. The Party is the highest form of class organisation of the working class
d. The Party is the embodiment of will, incompatible with the existence of factions
e. The Party is strengthened by purging itself of opportunist elements
These principles of Communist Party organisation are not based on command from higher up, but on voluntary individual and collective discipline founded on revolutionary understanding, commitment and willingness to serve the working class and people and not one’s self.
Thus there must be a unity between ideology, politics and organisation. Ideology must be in command, the political actions must be in accord with this ideology and organisation must serve ideology and political needs. On this basis, the Party recruits the best of the working class and other social groups. And it does not set up organisation that is separate from those it seeks to serve, but one that is organised amongst the people.
2. The interests of the working class are irreconcilable with the interests of the capitalist class. Only through a fierce and determined struggle of society, led by the working class, can the common enemy be defeated and fundamental change be brought about. The reason for this is the mode of production under capitalism, namely, the contradiction between the socialised relations of production and the private ownership of the means of production and the commodity. Tied up with this is Marx’s Theory of Value. This explains how profit is extracted from the value created by labour, which is expropriated by the capitalist in the form of profit. If this is true, the interests of one class can only be secured at the cost of the other. Marx also observed that the relations of production in capitalist society determine that there will be cyclical booms and bust phases in the economy.
3. Capitalism cannot be reformed into socialism. The capitalist class constitutes the ruling class through its economic power. From this stems political power. The state is a weapon in the hands of the ruling class, used to impose its rule through both deception and violence. Only by the removal of the economic power of the capitalist class and putting an end to its political, administrative and legal structure through the destruction of the capitalist state, is it possible to put an end to this rule and replace it by the rule of the working class and its allies. This power is exercised this a completely different kind of state, a state based on democratic mass participation in decision making and implementation of these decisions.
4. In the imperialist era of capitalism, which remains globally dominant, socialist nations are compelled to co-exist with imperialist and other capitalist nations and must therefore strive to achieve a balance between having to deal with them and resisting encroachment and working to build the future. This is achieved on the principles of striving for mutual respect, equality and not interfering in each others internal affairs. There is an element of compromise here, brought about by necessity. This approach is always applied strategically, as a means to strengthen socialism and weaken capitalism. It is not about caving in accepting the demands of capitalism, tying oneself in chains and losing the initiative.
5. In socialist societies, the leadership of the Communist Party is the highest expression of the organised working class that has established and is asserting its political power. This leadership is essential to maintaining and consolidating the working class as the leading class. What this means is that it is necessary to go about the business of building the new in a long sighted and planned way, to slowly move out of the primal swamp that is capitalism and its ongoing influence. To do this scientific method must be applied to the act of, for the first epoch in human history, unleashing the conscious will of humanity to determine its own future. Part and parcel of moving forward is having the capacity to deal with class enemies and resolve contradictions amongst the people through education, patience and development.
All of these principles are opposed by revisionism. In summary, these are the counter positions that have consistently been put forward and practiced.
1. On the question of the Communist Party there are two responses from revisionism. Both repudiate the principles that were developed by Lenin and summarised by Stalin. The foundation of the revisionist position since the time of Bernstein to the modern revisionists is that capitalism has changed since Marx’s time. The argument rests on two propositions. One is that instead of being pushed down, the position of the working class has actually improved over time and that Marx’s prediction of crisis has not been born out by experience. Marx’s Theory of Value has also been disproved by history according to the revisionists.
The other response is that after achieving universal suffrage, the working class has a say and influence in the political system. Therefore a party of the working class that concerns itself with the smashing of the old state and organised along the principle summarised by Stalin is no longer needed. There is denial of the concepts of the Party being the vanguard, leading detachment of the working class and the highest form of class organisation.
To counter such a party, the idea of an open party that works comfortably within the system is put forward, to give voice to the working class within the political system that it can now operate in. The Communist Party should be only one of a range of equal entities in a broad front of progress. It should not claim a leadership role, but merely contribute its views, amidst equally valid counter views. In this way, Communist ideology, politics and organisation is subordinated to capitalist ideology, politics and organisation.
The idea of collective discipline and service to the people is transformed into worship of individualism and service of self. Party work is seen as furthering one’s career. Factionalism is justified as the normal state of affairs. Cleansing the Party of opportunism is seen as tyranny. Leadership is seen as the result of having the numbers, rather than being based on the ideological quality and skills that have been developed and verified by practice.
A second variant of revisionism suggests that there should be no Communist Party at all, because social democratic organisation already exists. This social democratic organisation is organisation of the working class and already serves the role that the Communist Party is striving to serve. The communists, instead of having separate organisation, should enter the social democratic party in order to move it in a better direction.
2. Given that capitalism has changed its nature, the working class and capitalist class have interests in common and progress can be made on the basis of pursuing these interests. The greed of some capitalists can be contained on the basis of an alliance with all members of society as equals. This nonsense delivers the working class into the hands of the capitalist class.
The working class should hold itself back so as not to break this alliance and should not inscribe on its banner the need to put an end to capitalism. It should confine itself to winning some concessions. It is through the winning of these concessions that capitalism will one day turn out to be socialism. Consequently, there is worship of the spontaneous struggle for concessions and a denial of connecting the spontaneous struggle to the struggle for revolutionary change.
At the core of this denial is a refutation of Marx’s theory of value. It is denied that the capitalists’ profit is derived from the creation of value through the application of labour power. In place of Marxist political economy there is acceptance of various versions of Keynesian economics. The boom/bust economic cycles no longer exist. Capitalism can be managed and the distribution of income can be made fairer and be propelled in the direction of socialism on this basis. Socialism is reduced to state management and a better distribution of income.
Here is a part of what Lenin had to say in relation to the revisionist answer to Marx’s political economy.
“The position of revisionism was even worse as regards the theory of crises and the theory of collapse. Only for a very short time could people, and then only the most short-sighted, think of refashioning the foundations of Marx’s theory under the influence of a few years of industrial boom and prosperity… Realities very soon made it clear to the revisionists that crises were not a thing of the past: prosperity was followed by a crisis. The forms, the sequence, the picture of particular crises changed, but crises remained an inevitable component of the capitalist system. While uniting production, the cartels and trusts at the same time, and in a way that was obvious to all, aggravated the anarchy of production, the insecurity of existence of the proletariat and the oppression of capital, thereby intensifying class antagonisms to an unprecedented degree."
Lenin explained how the winning of concessions on the basis established by revisionism divides, demoralises and disorganises the working class and ties it more securely to the capitalist class. These are concessions with chains, where victories are turned to defeats in the long run.
A classical example in Australia was the Prices and Incomes Accord of the 1980’s. It was drawn up by practitioners of revisionism. Its essence was that the working class had to pull back on demands for increased wages and improved conditions, and in return, there will be controls on prices. There would also be an advance in the “social wage.” This means that government would provide more subsidies and services. The accord was enthusiastically taken up by the capitalist class, bringing in a period of serious setback for the working class. Income was re-distributed upwards, real wages and conditions declined, union organisation was decimated in many places and communist organisation declined. The social wage did not advance.
Parliamentary politics becomes the mainstay of the political struggle. All activity is strictly within the limits imposed by capitalist law. Denial of the class struggle also led to denigration of the leading role of the working class, and in the most developed form of revisionism, raising the concept of social movements in its place. The emphasis was on the environmentalist, women’s liberation, the Indigenous movement and sexual rights as things in themselves, devoid of any class content. But rather than giving strength to these movements, revisionism actually weakens them by sapping them of the strength that a clear working class position provides.
3. Revisionism preaches that the state is above classes. It does not accept that the capitalist class is the ruling class, imposing its dictatorship through the use of the state and the application of both deception and violence. Consequently, the state is seen as an instrument that can mediate and therefore limit the power of the capitalist class. It is a short step from here to insist that the state can be captured and turned to bring in socialism. With this, it is not surprising that revisionism is infatuated with parliamentary politics.
Revisionism abhors the idea of building an alternative political power in the work place and neighbourhoods. It regards revolutionary struggle with horror and an attack on already existing democracy. Proponents of revolutionary struggle are branded as dictators who are the enemies of society, legitimising the capitalist concept that one must only work through the established channels.
What was Lenin’s response?
“In the sphere of politics, revisionism did really try to revise the foundation of Marxism, namely, the doctrine of the class struggle. Political freedom, democracy and universal suffrage remove the ground for the class struggle—we were told—and render untrue the old proposition of the Communist Manifesto that the working men have no country. For, they said, since the “will of the majority” prevails in a democracy, one must neither regard the state as an organ of class rule, nor reject alliances with the progressive, social-reform bourgeoisie against the reactionaries...”
4. Revisionism suggests that in the relations between countries peace should be secured at all costs, even if there must be rapprochement between socialism and capitalism. There is no distinction between just and unjust wars in terms of class interests. Those who rise up against their oppressors are often condemned as being violators of the peace. There is a denial of imperialism as a predatory stage in the development of capitalism and that that this affects all relations between states. Just like in the national arena, in the global context, the struggle for change takes the form of being confined to the evolution of the existing order and not on working to unite all forces against the common enemy.
International relations depend on maintaining the alignment with the domestic capitalists. The class struggle, which is now far less important, has given way to the national interest in isolation from class interests. Objectively this means the denial of working class interests and support for capitalist class interests, simply because it is the capitalist class that wields political power.
5. In conditions of socialism, revisionism continues to be infatuated with the capitalist political system and seeks to impose the same system to socialism. This is equated to democracy. A system under the leadership of the working class acting as the ruling class, dispossessing the capitalist class is seen as a ‘totalitarian dictatorship’. Revisionism demands all individuals are equal in the political process. There is no leading role for the Communist Party. The working class does not need to be in the dominant position. The space should be open to all on an equal footing. The most venomous hatred is reserved for socialist countries that are falsely accused of human rights violations on the terms put forward by the imperialists and capitalist society. Again there is no working class position. Just the acceptance of democracy as being defined by the capitalist parliamentary system and law.
Of course, revisionism in socialist society has had to operate is a slightly different way, after inheriting the political structures and system of ideas that were built up in the period of socialist construction. If we examine the practice of revisionism in that part of the world, one cannot help but see that step by step it moved in the same way.