The Masks and Ignorance of Bolshevism from a Marxist Point of View

By Albert Weisbord
(From the Magazine “La Parola del Popolo” May/June 1974)

THE DEGENERATION of Russian “bolshevism” from a party of the working class to an enemy of the working class is no accident of history but part of the historical process in which social entities carry within themselves the seed of their own destruction, given enough time and pressure. Today the Russian government is viewed not as a revolutionary force but as a rival to the United States. The Chinese “communists” actually call the Russian “communists” social imperialists, with perhaps the same justice that the Russian “bolsheviks” in the past called the socialists “social fascists".

We are not for the Kaiser if we view his rival the Czar just as anachronistic. We are not for fascism if we criticize its opponent liberalism. We are not for employers if we reveal the crimes of trade union leaders. And we are not for capitalism if we expose the fraud of “bolshevism.” On the contrary, our criticism at this moment is the way we can avoid the criticism of history later. The working class of the United States has outgrown “bolshevism” even before “bolshevism” could become an important factor in the life of the United States.

The style of “bolshevism” can be shown by its choice of name. The name “bolshevik” originated in the course of a controversy between various factions within the Russian Social-Democratic Party meeting in convention in 1903. The word “bolshevik” (from “Bolshe”, meaning more) meant one of the majority, as distinct from the word “Menshevik” (from “menshe”, meaning less), meaning one of the minority. At this 1903 convention, however, the majority of the delegates, were later called “mensheviks”, while the minority styled themselves “bolsheviks.” This novelty came about accidentally when, for a short time, the Jewish Socialist Bund stamped out of the convention leaving the rump convention, for the moment with the minority in control. This moment was enough for the minority under Lenin, to seize the name “majority men” or "bolsheviks” and brand the real majority as “mensheviks” or “minority men.”

Thus the name “bolshevik” was a trick, a trick of propaganda and political maneuvering, having little to do with the truth of the situation. Of course, the name “bolshevik” was taken not for the Party as a whole but for a faction within that Party. No Socialist Party ever took a name based merely on arithmetic; it remains the unique distinction of the Leninists to do so.

Had the word “bolshe” been used to signify “more” in the sense of, “We want more” (that is, we want the whole loaf), while the others want less (that is, only a few crumbs from the table of capitalism), this would have been quite understandable as distinguishing radicals from liberals, revolutionists from reformers, fanatics from dilettants. It was in this sense that the Bulgarian Socialists split, one faction calling itself the “narrows”, the other the “broads.” But such was not the distinction between “bolsheviks” and “mensheviks” “Bolshevik” was simply an arithmetical term used by Lenin to give the impression that the majority of the members were with him for all time. He had “won” the Party. This was, of course, a lie. And how strange it seems that Lenin, the man of “principle” should deal with numbers not principles.

Why was such a name chosen? Clearly, it must have had a special meaning to Russians, especially to Great Russians tinged with Czarism. For there were “Great (Bolshoi)” Russians, and "Little (Menshoi)” Russians, and “White”, Russians. “Great” Russians dominated the Czarist domain and had only relatively recently extended the Russian Empire to one seventh the land area of the entire world, making Russia also “bolshaya". “Bolshe” Russians now had a “bolshe” Russia and also a “bolshevik” faction. Thus Leninist “bolshevism” could parallel Great Russian chauvinism and was cunning propaganda. In all truth, the term “bolshevik” could just as appropriately have been used as a name for a Russian imperialist Party.

The selection of the term “bolshevik” also showed that the “bolshevik” faction as a whole cared little whether Westerners understood them or not. The faction was strictly a Russian organization, not only in the sense that it was concerned solely with Russian affairs, but that it was a provincial organization, knowing little of the rest of the world. The principal leaders were in exile and stayed in Central Europe as near as possible to Russia. As socialists, they were in touch with socialists elsewhere, as emigres, they mingled with the Russian emigre colonies scattered throughout Europe. Some of them, especially the Jews like Zinoviev, Kamenev, Martov, and such, were “Europeanized”, but the Russians stuck mainly to themselves. Trotsky was not a “bolshevik". The “bolsheviks” within Russia were far more parochial in mentality than even their exiled leaders. It was not long after the seizure of power that the “bolsheviks” were to kill their “Europeanized” leaders. The infrastructure of Russian life would not long tolerate internationalism except in the form of Messianism.

Considerably before the Social-Democratic Party had been formed in Russia, socialism itself had become accepted by numbers of workers in the western regions of Russia, particularly in Poland, thanks to the pressure of the German socialist movement carried forward in Poland, especially by Jewish workers and intellectuals. Lenin, himself, however, reached socialism rather by another route, the route of “nihilism”, of “people’s will” anarchism, during which his brother was hanged by the Czar. This was a route of elitism, a route of secret conspiracy, a route of action regardless of mass organization or democratic support. This route was to affect the “bolsheviks” greatly, as they clustered around Lenin in the Social-Democratic Party and developed the theory of "democratic centralism". All this was a reflection of the czarist social order.

For the Russian socialist emigres generally, democracy was considered the principal practice while hierarchical centralism was secondary; but for the illegal “bolshevik” member in Russia, centralism was the most important principle while democracy was but a poor substitute for mutual confidence. This dominance of centralism was emphasized when the “bolsheviks” took power and controlled the Soviets. It was brought to an extreme phase when Stalin ruled the Party and democratic centralism revealed itself as bureaucratic despotic centralism.

The “bolshevik” leader, Lenin, as a Russian specialist, made very little contribution to Marxist general economic theory. His work on The Development of a Capitalism in Russia is truly a puerile affair, of value only against the decaying “narodniki” populists. His later work, Imperialism, Last Stage of Capitalism, is a confused jumble as we shall proceed to show.

In this later work, Lenin distorts the very meaning of imperialism, changing the concept from a political one to an economic phase of capitalism. For the Marxist, imperialism has existed for thousands of years, under ancient Rome, Persia, Greece, Egypt, and elsewhere. The essence of imperialism is the physical conquest and/or political and military subjugation of one State or national territory by another. Lands are conquered and peoples are enslaved or subjugated. But now thanks to Lenin’s new conception, imperialism is transformed into a new characteristic feature of the 20th century, as a final stage of capitalism, with the following elements: 1) the imperialist country exports capital abroad; 2) it forms economic mergers under the domination of financiers; 3) it dominates “colonies". Under such distortion, Russia, which had conquered many States under the Czar, including much Chinese territory, was no longer “imperialist” after the Czar was overthrown, because post-Czarist Russia did not export private capital and was not under the hegemony of financiers; while the United States merely by exporting capital and having financial centralization was an “imperialist” power, though its physical conquests were very secondary.

Similarly, with the “bolshevik” distorted theories about “colonies” and “colonialism.” Marxism always considered colonies as having been in existence for thousands of years. A home country would send out “colonists” to “colonize” lands. Such settlements were called “colonies.” For example, England sent out English colonists to establish colonies in the New World. The colonists were natives of England. With the same rights as other subjects or citizens of the home-country. The colonies created could be considered established in more or less unoccupied lands. Such colonies were formed by England in Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, etc. This was the general definition of the term “colonies” accepted by Marxism.

But “bolshevism” had to confuse colonies with conquests, and colonials with conquered natives. Furthermore “colonies” were now defined by Lenin as dominated merely by economic policies. If a country was dominated by economic investments made by another power, such a country was a "colony” of that power though no physical seizure had taken place, according to Lenin. Thus Haiti or even Canada could be considered a “colony” of the United States, though there had been no Physical conquest. On the other hand, Outer Mongolia was not a colony of the Soviet Union though physical occupation had taken place. Very convenient! Before World War I Germany was considered an imperialist power; after World War I Germany was called a “colony” of the Versailles Powers. In fighting for Germany’s “freedom”, Hitler, according to the “bolshevik” view, was trying to liberate a “colony” and was not an imperialist out to conquer other States. This was “bolshevik” Marxism!

In political science the “bolsheviks” moved sharply from Marxism. It was not enough for Lenin and the “bolsheviks” to have led in overthrowing the Czar and to have established a people’s republic of Russia, a grand enough achievement; the “bolsheviks” had to call it a “Socialist State.” Marx had previously denounced such terms. To him there could be no such thing as a "free” State or a “socialist” State. The State was an instrument of force by which one class dictated its will to another. Socialism, on the other hand, stressed the withering away of the State and the disappearance of the class struggle.

Can one say that the word “Socialist” in the expression of “Socialist Republics” was meant to denote that capitalists had been expropriated and their property socialized? But this would mean that the workers ruled and that there existed a dictatorship of the proletariat. Now capitalists may be expropriated and capital nationalized without a socialist regime being established. Such a process could be attempted merely to strengthen the State, to improve conditions for the toilers and to stave off a real victory for the workers, as Nazism (National Socialism) showed. It was Lenin himself who recognized that the Russian Revolution did not establish a one-class workers’ dictatorship but a two-class workers’ and peasants’ rule, with the working class a small island in a large ocean of peasants.

Under the “bolsheviks” the seizure of State power did not lead to the rule of the working class; it did not lead to world revolution and the victory of the workers in Europe and elsewhere. There could be “socialism” in Russia only if the Russian working class used its power for the emancipation of the workers of the world and this it could do only in cooperation with the workers of the world, particularly in the highly developed industrial countries of the West. Such an event did not occur. Never an internationalist party, parochial Russian “bolshevism” could not even begin to solve its international problems, and it soon sunk into the stuper of Stalinism.

We can not, and do not, question the great achievements of Lenin. But we must recognize that he was, at most, only a European and this is far from being fit for world-wide leadership. Even as a European revolutionary force the “bolsheviks” under Lenin (and Trotsky) had only failures to their credit in Poland, in Germany, in Bavaria, in Hungary, and elsewhere.

In Asia “bolshevism” made dismal errors in dealing with the Turkish Revolution and Kemal Pasha Ataturk. Far more important, the “bolsheviks” failed to link up in any effective manner with the great Chinese Revolutionary movement of Sun Yat-sen and allowed Chiang Kai-shek to destroy the Communist Party in China.

Highly significant, too, was the “bolshevik” total lack of understanding of the people of the United States and their history. This ignorance fully includes Lenin. No one can pick up Lenin’s Letter to the American Working Class without being struck by his abysmal lack of understanding of the history of the United States and his ignorance of this country (This, I have elaborated in full in my Conquest of Power (Vol. II, 1937).

One of the fatal results of this ignorance about the United States was the “bolshevik” manipulation of the U. S. Communist Party from its very date of formation and the complete destruction of this party as a revolutionary force soon thereafter.

To take one example: Without much discrimination, the “bolsheviks” accepted the general belief that the United States was “America” belonging to “Americans” and that European immigrants were not “Americans” but “foreign-born”, with only the first generation of these immigrants being allowed to call themselves “American” and then not always without dispute. The fact is that up to the time of the Revolution in the American colonies, the colonists who settled here had called themselves English, not Americans. These “Anglo-Americans” differed from the English, for one thing, in the tremendous development of African slavery with all the infra-structural changes that this implied both for the English and for the Africans. After the Revolution, the Englishmen here called themselves “Americans” and took monopoly control in economics, politics, and all forms of social life. The later immigrants in the early 19th century, first Irish, and then German, in the main, were considered “foreign-born” and inferior. Yet the truth was that, unlike other States and nations, the United States was composed entirely by Euro-Americans (for the moment leaving out Africans and “Indians")

After the Civil War, and with the great industrialization of the United States, new streams of immigrants by the millions poured into the country from Eastern and Southern Europe. They were scorned as “foreign-born”, as Polaks, Hunkies, Dagos, Wops, Micks, Shanty-Irish, Kikes, Sheeny Yids, Spicks, Greasers, and so on. Bitterly exploited and oppressed, these immigrants had the potentiality of turning into a militant force as soon as their first days of strangeness and helplessness disappeared; and in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century they began to do so. Left alone, they formed militant unions in the needle trades, in the coal and metal mines, in the packing and slaughter houses, etc., and they poured out in repeated militant struggles. They dominated the socialist and anarchist movements in this country, then.

When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917 there was a great and spontaneous movement of support from these foreign-born people and their children of the first generation. These workers could have been organized as a great militant force into industrial unions, as was demonstrated by me in the 1926 Passaic Strike of textile workers.

Soon after the “bolsheviks” took power in the Soviet Union they immediately took on a messianic role for the rest of the world. All were to imitate the “bolsheviks". In the end they destroyed every revolutionary force throughout all Europe and proved of inestimable value to the capitalist classes of the world.

In the early days of the controlled communist party in the United States the Russian “bolsheviks” never raised the question whether it was correct to accept the theory that the United States belonged to the English (now called “Americans") or that it was rather better to adopt the viewpoint that America pertained equally to all the Euro-Americans and Afro-Americans who had built the country (not to speak of the “true” Americans, now called “Indians"). Calling on the former emigrants to return home to defend the Soviet Union, the “bolsheviks” never conceived of calling on them to build up a vital militant movement in their new home. When the new controlled Communist Party was first built, the “bolsheviks” made sure that it was the Russian Federation that was considered most trustworthy and given most support, Russians first, internationalists later. This was also shown at the First Congress of Communist International formed when only two “foreign” writers were present.

The Russian “bolsheviks” were not unaware that the Socialist Federations composed of Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Letts, Esthonians, Finns, Poles, Czecks, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Armenians, and other groups that had fled from czardom were in the main controlled by small cliques of intellectuals dominating the great mass of proletarian members in these federations, members who were playing a basic role in U.S. economic life and who could have become a powerful force. But these new immigrants were never considered “Americans” by the “bolsheviks”, only “foreign-born” whose place was back home.

This being the case, the ridiculous theory was concocted by the “bolsheviks” that “Americans” must be bought up and brought in to make their movement “Americanized". So people like Foster, Canon, Minor, Browder, Johnstone, Dunne, Hathaway, and other such worthies, whose names “sounded” English were given ample funds and appointed “leaders” of the Communist Party of the United States, even though these jokers were often only first generation immigrants with no socialist background and very little work history. (Jews could play a secondary role if they were not thrust too far forward into public view: Lovestone, Weinstone, Bittleman, Olgin, Amter, Gitiow, Stachel, Zack, Wolfe, Zam, Herberg Shachtman, et al).

These bought-and-paid-for characters strutted across the stage posturing as “Authentic Americans”, “Native Americans”, “native proletarians” to whom was a god-given right to lead. Naturally, all they could do was to serve as purchased puppets of the “bolsheviks". With poetic justice these strange types all characterized themselves as “bolsheviks"—like master, like servant. Later, when they were kicked out like dirty bums, stool pigeons, and traitors, some of them would bemoan “If only the Russians had left us alone, we would have been able to build a real party!”

The “bolsheviks” reached their height of fraud and fakery under Stalin and after

1. While calling themselves anti-fascists, they made deals with Hitler for control of Eastern Europe and Asia;

2. While calling themselves internationalists, they conquered and selfishly exploited Eastern Europe;

3. While calling for world revolution, they destroyed all communist revolutionary movements controlled by them;

4. While posing as anti-imperialists they made claims to Libya and other parts of Africa and they seized land from Japan;

5. While posing as revolutionists they created pacifist organizations with pacifist illusions and smoke-screens;

6. Claiming to have created Soviets as a new and higher form of government structure, they hastened to destroy the Soviets as a politically effective institution;

7. Claiming to be the champion of the Russian proletariat, they have destroyed the Russian trade unions as a working class force;

8. Calling for working class struggle, they support the domination of Arab kings and sheiks;

9. Shouting they have created “full socialism” in their country, they organized the greatest system of slave camps the 20th century ever saw;

10. Modestly affirming they have created a new humanity, the “Soviet Man”, they demonstrated this when three and a half million Soviet soldiers surrendered to Hitler in the first six months of World War II with hundreds of thousands enlisting in Hitler’s army to fight Stalinism;

11. Speaking for the working class of the world, they threaten to atom-bomb to hell the entire working class living under capitalism.

And so it goes. There is no doubt that Russian “Communists” are really “bolsheviks". We grant them freely this distinction! Working class elimination of the “bolsheviks” must become an inevitable part of the process for international working class emancipation.

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