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Menshevism Is Not Dead

(Part II)

Proletarian Revolution, vol. 1 no. 12, Editorial, April 1979.

The differences between the mensheviks and the Bolsheviks in Russia were not confined to the organization of the party. There emerged profound differences on how the revolution should be waged. Lenin waged a fierce struggle against the mensheviks on this question. What was at issue was not just a question of tactics in the Russian revolution. The difference between Lenin and the mensheviks was the difference between Marxist tactics and the tactics of international opportunism in the period of the transition from the bourgeois revolution to the socialist revolution. When Lenin “criticised the tactics of the Mensheviks he at the same time exposed the tactics of international opportunism; and when he substantiated Marxist tactics in the period of the bourgeois revolution and drew the distinction between the bourgeois revolution and the Socialist revolution, he at same time formulated the fundamental principles of the Marxist tactics in the period of transition from the bourgeois revolution to the Socialist revolution.” (History of the CPSU(B): short course, p. 65)

So it is of the utmost importance for all true Marxists to understand the difference between Bolshevism and menshevism on this question. It is, of course, not surprising to see the many modern day menshevik parties that call themselves “Marxist-Leninist” try to cover up this difference in order to put forward menshevism under the banner of Marxism-Leninism.

Stalin explained the difference between Bolshevism and menshevism on this question this way:

In 1905, differences developed between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in Russia on the character of the Russian revolution. The Bolsheviks advocated an alliance, between the working class and the peasantry under the hegemony of the proletariat. The Bolsheviks affirmed that the objective must be a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry for the purpose of passing immediately from the bourgeois-democratic revolution to the socialist revolution, with the support of the rural poor secured. The Mensheviks in Russia rejected the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution; instead of the policy of alliance between the working class and the peasantry they prefered the policy of an agreement with the liberal bourgeoisie, and they declared that the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry was a reactionary Blanquist scheme that ran counter to the development of the bourgeois revolution. (“Some Questions on the History of Bolshevism,” Problems of Leninism, FLP, p. 566)

Our modern day mensheviks are not against the peasantry, because often they are peasants; in fact, what they want to achieve is the alliance between the peasantry and liberal bourgeoisie which maintains hegemony over the proletariat. It was Mao Ze-Dung that led a whole party of mensheviks on this question. Mao rejected Bolshevik tactics and instead put forward his own brand of menshevism as “Marxism applied to the concrete conditions of China.” Mao upheld a concept of “New Democracy” against the line of the Communist International. Mao considered the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry under the hegemony of the proletariat to be “ultra-left.”

Mao liquidated most of the proletariat from the Chinese Communist party and it became a party of the peasantry and liberal bourgeoisie which sought further alliance with the bourgeoisie in China. Mao called his “New Democracy” a “dictatorship of all revolutionary classes” but it in fact was under the hegemony of kulaks and the liberal bourgeoisie in the communist party. “The hegemony of the proletariat implies the leading role of the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution, accompanied by a policy of alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry and a policy of isolation of the liberal bourgeoisie.” (History of the CPSU(B), p. 71) This is the one thing all our modern day mensheviks cringe in fear of. the isolation of the liberal bourgeoisie. Mao wanted his “new democracy” with the bourgeoisie and Khrushchev wanted his party and state of “the whole people” with the bourgeoisie.

The Soviet and Chinese revisionists abandoned support of national liberation struggles under the hegemony of the proletariat and supported and promoted liberation movements in the world under the hegemony of the liberal bourgeoisie. They both promoted countries of the “third world” and the “non-aligned” movement that are allegedly “progressive.”

The Chinese revisionists went on to promote their theory of “three worlds” where any reactionary regime became “progressive” if it allied with western imperialism and was willing to open its doors to Chinese imperialism. The Soviet Union has followed the path of supporting those bourgeois in the world that will ally with Russian imperialism. In other words the menshevism of these revisionists has become open social-chauvinism and social-imperialism. They have passed from concealed support for the bourgeoisie to open support and propagation of imperialism. This is the path all mensheviks in history have walked down. What appeared to be tactical differences in 1905 became the difference between revolution and counter-revolution. During World War I the mensheviks allied with the imperialist bourgeoisie for “defense of the fatherland.” In Russia and Germany they were part of governments that attempted to crush the revolution. The road from “New Democracy” to alliance with U.S. imperialism is a straight road of revisionism and betrayal of the proletariat.

The problem of menshevism does not confine itself to the Chinese and Russian variants of modern revisionism. There are forces in the world today who boldly proclaim themselves to be Marxist-Leninist and denounce Chinese and Soviet revisionism, but, yet, they preserve the very same rotten menshevik politics, the politics they have carried with them since their earlier days of support for Soviet and Chinese revisionism. These forces claim to oppose the theory of “three worlds” but in reality this is a cover for their own menshevik politics. They reject the concept that all the states of the so-called “third world” are progressive. They correctly point out the reactionary character of some of these regimes but then they turn around and seek unity with the “progressive” states of Asia. Africa and Latin America. They support the “new international economic order” and praise the “patriotic” activity of these regimes in getting a few more dollars out of the imperialists in exchange for their resources. These mensheviks are seeking an alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie in these countries. It is the farthest thing from their minds to isolate the liberal bourgeoisie.

These great opponents of the theory of “three worlds” condemn allying with the imperialists of the so-called “second world”, but, yet, they call for alliance with the “well intentioned” capitalist countries of Europe. In Canada the menshevik Hardial Bains goes so far as to call for an alliance with the “middle bourgeoisie” to achieve “independence and democracy.” This is the menshevik line of allying with the liberal bourgeoisie, not only where there is a bourgeois-democratic revolution on the agenda, but in imperialist countries as well. This is just one more step down the path of betrayal, one step closer to open alliance with imperialism.

The betrayal of modern day menshevism can be seen in clearest terms when a revolutionary situation develops in the worlds. The situation in Iran shows this well. Leninist strategy was not followed. Stalin describes the strategy of the first stage of the revolutionary this way:

First stage: 1903 to February 1917. Objective: to overthrow tsarism and completely wipe out the survivals of medievalism. The main force of the revolution: the proletariat. Immediate reserves: the peasantry. Direction of the main blow: the isolation of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, which was striving to win over the peasantry and liquidate the revolution by compromise with tsarism. Plan for disposition of forces: alliance of the working class with the peasantry. (Foundations of Leninism, FLP. p. 84)

But in Iran where the objective was the overthrow of the monarchy and the wiping out of the survivals of medievalism, where the main force was the proletariat and the immediate reserves the peasantry, where did the mensheviks propose to aim the main blow? At the Shah while they seek to ally with the liberal bourgeoisie and religious reactionaries (part of the “medieval survivals”!). The liberal bourgeoisie tried for years to sell out the struggle by making a compromise with the Shah for a constitutional monarchy. It was the struggle of the proletariat and peasantry that forced the Shah of Iran to flee. And then the liberal bourgeoisie worked out a deal with Khomeini and were in the process of working out a deal with the Shah’s military and his appointed government when the proletariat, peasantry and many soldiers rose in armed revolution against the wishes of the bourgeoisie. But the liberal bourgeoisie and Khomeini formed a government that is leading Iran today. The mensheviks did not isolate the liberal bourgeoisie; they promoted it and, with the absence of genuine Bolsheviks, the liberal-bourgeoisie in alliance with religious reactionaries, the shah’s army and US imperialism has hegemony.

In Iran workers’ and peasants’ councils arose spontaneously, but the mensheviks have not tried to build this into a soviet movement that would represent a dual power that could sweep away the present reactionary regime. No, instead, they want a coalition government with Khomeini and Bazargan. Rather than recognizing, as did Lenin and the Bolsheviks, that the councils were the foundation from which to pass over to the Socialist Revolution, the mensheviks the world over call on the Iranian workers and poor peasantry to “defend the gains” of the revolution, i.e., the Islamic Republic. Because the mensheviks could not give correct leadership to the councils, the councils could not take root and develop as in Russia. In April 1917. there was a chance the power of the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies might collapse because “it has itself surrendered and is surrendering its position to the bourgeoisie.” (LCW 24:39, “On Dual Power”) The reason for this was “insufficient class consciousness and organization of the proletarians and peasants. The ’mistake’ of the leaders I have named (mensheviks) lies in their petty bourgeois position, in the fact that instead of clarifying the minds of the workers, they are befogging them; instead of dispelling petty bourgeois illusions, they are instilling them; instead of freeing the people from bourgeois influence, they are strengthening that influence.” (Ibid., pp. 39-40)

Such are the errors of Iran’s mensheviks who wish to share power with Khomeini and not push forward, to the second stage of the revolution. They befog the fact that the workers are spontaneously throwing up political forms which can be utilized by the class conscious proletariat to lead the entire class forward to Socialist Revolution, from the first to the second stage.

Stalin describes the second’ stage of the Russian revolution this way:

Second Stage: March 1917 to October 1917. Objective: to overthrow imperialism in Russia and to withdraw from the imperialist war. The main force of the revolution: the proletariat. Immediate reserves: the poor peasantry. The proletariat of neighboring countries as probable reserves. The protracted war and the crisis of imperialism as a probable factor. Direction of the main blow: isolation of the petty bourgeois democrats (Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries), who were striving to win over the toiling masses of the peasantry and to put an end to the revolution by a compromise with imperialism. Plan for the disposition of forces: alliance of the proletariat with the poor peasantry. (Foundations of Leninism, FLP, p. 85)

Rather than enter into a coalition in the reactionary Provisional Government, rather than calling on the workers and poor peasants to “defend the gains” of the liberal bourgeoisie, the Bolsheviks told the workers and poor peasants the truth that only the socialist revolution could guarantee the gains of the democratic revolution. The Bolsheviks raised the slogan “All power to the Soviets!”, recognizing in the Soviets a higher form of political organization than a parliamentary system, a form representing the toiling masses.

In the political field, Lenin proposed the transition from a parliamentary republic to a republic of Soviets. This was an important step forward in the theory and practice of Marxism. Hitherto, Marxist theoriticians had regarded the parliamentary republic as the best political form of transition to Socialism. Now Lenin proposed to replace the parliamentary republic by a Soviet republic as the most suitable form of political organization of society in the period of transition from capitalism to Socialism. (History of the CPSU(B), p. 185)

Iran’s mensheviks turned their backs on the higher form. The utter betrayal of the mensheviks and the absence of Bolshevik leaders has left the Iranian working class with no correct direction. They have tailed the manoeuverings of the mullahs and the spontaneous revolt of the workers and peasants. Thus the bloodthirsty regime of the Shah has been replaced by the reactionary code of the Koran.

But the Menshevik declarations ring out that the Iranian “revolution” has won for the people freedom, independence and sovereignty; that this victory of great historic importance is a big stride towards freedom and democracy, to a new level of emancipation and progress. Yet where is the “class analysis” which the Mensheviks so vigorously tout? What is the class content of this “freedom.” of their “democracy,” and the purposefully vague and “enigmatic” words “emancipation and progress.” It is the class of the mullahs, of the religious reactionaries, it is the class of the liberal bourgeoisie, who are the leaders of this revolution.

The modern-day Mensheviks consistently deny the subjective factor and the part plaved by the leaders. If the “leaders” are not to their liking, they talk of the “people” instead. As we have seen in their stance on the imperialist war in Indochina, they speak much of the Vietnamese “people” but have little to say of their leaders. In Iran, the role of the mullahs, and Khomeini in particular, is downplayed, passed off as simply a “subjective influence.” True to the spontaneist line represented by their thesis that a revolutionary situation exists in the whole world (rather than the Leninist principle that imperialism is the era of proletarian revolution) the Menshevik analysis claims the Iranian masses were conscious, that is, aware of their aims and role without being led by a Marxist-Leninist party, for they admit that “their” party has not played a leading role! Therefore, the Mensheviks must declare that this consciousness comes from the objective conditions, from the contradictions within Iran and within the imperialist system. It is obvious that the revolt of the toiling masses was due to these causes. But the betrayal for the Iranian revolution lies in that this revolt of the masses was tied to the liberal bourgeoisie and religious reactionaries, that the Mensheviks could not offer correct leadership and develop the Soviets into a dual power, and that the proletariat was prevented from assuming its leading and hegemonic role. But without revolutionary theory, Bolshevik theory, this betrayal was inevitable.

In the opportunist tradition of their forebearers, the Mensheviks deny the importance of the subjective factor, they belittle the necessity for revolutionary theory and the guidance and leadership of a Bolshevik party. From their worship of spontaneity in economic struggles to the worship of spontaneity in Iran, from their proclamations of Marxist-Leninist parties which are mere paper parties with no theory, no ties with the masses, no advanced workers to their denounciations of the adherents of the theory of “three worlds” as being too concerned with books and study (of all accusations, by far the most absurd!) they abandon Leninism while seeking to portray themselves as the “most consistent” Leninists.

But the Mensheviks, who conceal themselves in a centrist current, will be exposed with each crisis of imperialism. At a time of crisis they will be forced to pass from their concealed alliance with the imperialists into an open alliance, as the events in Iran and Vietnam have shown.

Menshevism is not dead. But with the rising tide of Bolshevism, it soon will be.