Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael A. Miller

Against Revisionism

I. Revisionism

Lenin and his wife Krupskaya received a copy of Bernstein’s infamous book Evolutionary Socialism while in exile in 1899. In a letter to his mother, Lenin wrote:

Nadya and I started reading Bernstein’s book immediately; we have read more than a half and its contents astonish us more and more as we go on. It is unbelievably weak theoretically–mere repetition of someone else’s ideas. There are phrases about criticism but no attempt at serious, independent criticism. In effect it is opportunism . . . and cowardly opportunism at that. . . . (LCW, 37: 281)

Bernstein had been a close friend of Engels until the latter’s death in 1895. He was handed the rich theoretical heritage of Marxism to carry forward. Instead he immediately set out to hand it over to the bourgeoisie. Lenin immediately exposed Bernstein’s pretense at creative development. Referring to the revisionists as loudmouths, Lenin asserted flatly that “absolutely nothing” had been introduced into the theory, and instead there was only retreat and the preaching of concessions. Anticipating the accusations of “dogmatism”, Lenin stated clearly that the theory, of course, had to be developed in accord with concrete conditions, but that development had to be based on defending the general principles of the theory.

There can be no strong socialist party without a revolutionary theory which unites all socialists, from which they draw all their convictions, and which they apply in their methods of struggle and means of action. To defend such a theory, which to the best of your knowledge you consider to be true, against unfounded attacks and attempts to corrupt it is not to imply that you are an enemy of all criticism. We do not regard Marx’s theory as something completed and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life.[7]

In What Is To Be Done? Lenin summed up the main features of Bernstein’s revisionism: his denial of the revolutionary class struggle, which is the soul of Marxism.

Denied was the possibility of putting socialism on a scientific basis and of demonstrating its necessity and inevitability from the point of view of the materialist conception of history. Denied was the fact of growing impoverishment, the process of proletarization, and the intensification of capitalist contradictions; the very concept ”ultimate aim”, was declared to be unsound, and the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat was completely rejected. Denied was the antithesis in principle between liberalism and socialism. Denied was the theory of the class struggle, on the alleged grounds that it could not be applied to a strictly democratic society governed according to the will of the majority, etc.[8]

Already at this time Lenin spoke of this trend as representing a definite wing of the international socialist movement. As to its class basis, “it is precisely the extensive participation of an ’academic’ stratum in the socialist movement in recent years that has promoted such a rapid spread of Bernsteinism.” It was only later that Lenin realized that certain new features of capitalism had given added strength to the petty-bourgeois-Marxist tendencies. It was only later that Lenin identified the material basis for revisionism and opportunism in a stratum of the working class itself–in the “labor aristocracy”, the uppermost stratum within the working class. The first time this idea came to Lenin was in connection with a vote on the national-colonial question at the Stuttgart Congress in 1907.

This vote on the colonial question is of very great importance ... it revealed a negative feature in the European labor movement, one that can do no little harm to the proletarian cause, and for that reason should receive serious attention ....

The non-propertied, but non-working, class is incapable of over-throwing the exploiters. Only the proletarian class, which maintains the whole of society, can bring about the social revolution. However, as a result of the extensive colonial policy the European proletarian partly finds himself in a position when it is not his labor, but the labor of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole of society. The British bourgeoisie, for example, derives more profit from the many millions of the population of India and other colonies than from the British workers. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism. Of course, this may be only a temporary phenomenon, but the evil must nonetheless be clearly realized and its causes understood in order to be able to rally the proletariat of all countries for the struggle against such opportunism.[9]

At that Congress Bernstein and his followers, a majority of the German delegation, spoke for a “practical colonial programme” and argued for a “socialist colonial policy”. This was an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, socialism with “bourgeois imperialism, which is now arrogantly raising its head”.[10] But this was only the beginning of Lenin’s developing analysis of imperialism and the split in socialism.

In 1908 Lenin wrote “Marxism and Revisionism” and made no mention of the connection between the colonial policy and the importation of wealth on the one hand, and opportunism in the working class movement on the other hand. He sums up the historical, theoretical struggle between the two ideologies, stating that the bourgeoisie became forced to represent itself as Marxist because of the theoretical victories scored by the latter. He identified the revisionist trend as a variety of bourgeois liberalism. “The liberals have always said that bourgeois parliamentarism destroys classes and class divisions”. In practical policy revisionism can do no better than tailing the spontaneous movement of the masses. Having no principles, it cannot help but sink to opportunism in practice.

’The movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing’–this catch phrase of Bernstein’s expresses the substance of revisionism better than many long disquisitions. To determine its conduct from case to case, to adapt itself to the events of the day and to the chopping and changing of petty-politics, to forget the primary interests of the proletariat and the basic features of the whole capitalist system, of all capitalist evolution, to sacrifice these primary interests for the real or assumed advantages of the moment–such is the policy of revisionism. And it patently follows from the very nature of this policy that it may assume an infinite variety of forms, and that every more or less ’new’ question, every more or less unexpected and unforseen turn of events, even though it change the basic line of development only to an insignificant degree and only for the briefest period, will always inevitably give rise to one variety of revisionism or another.[11]

The class roots of the phenomenon, Lenin said, were to be found in the continual regeneration by capitalist society of the petty-bourgeoisie, “new ’middle strata’”, and the simultaneous tendency to proletarianize these new small producers. Thus the proletariat is a class continually subjected to the pressure of the petty-bourgeois world outlook and it will be so, Lenin said, for a long time to come.

From this fluctuating stratum, which is, so to speak, the lowest stratum of the petty-bourgeoisie and simultaneously the highest stratum of the proletariat, comes revisionism in both a “left” and a right form.

In 1910, Lenin wrote on the subject of the differences in the European labor movement, and analyzed some of the secondary factors (external conditions) influencing the split. He mentions the training of new people, recruits to the movement who are not firm in their ideological training. He mentions the false understanding and false presentation of Marxism by the bourgeois intellectuals, and also speaks of the contradiction in methods of rule between force and deception in the form of liberalism.

The zigzags of bourgeois tactics intensify revisionism within the labor movement and not infrequently bring the differences within the labor movement to the point of an outright split.[12]

Finally, there is the “passing of certain individuals, groups and sections of the petty-bourgeoisie into the ranks of the proletariat” and this is reflected in tactical vacillation.[13]

While Germany led the way in the theoretical revision of Marxism, England led the way in practical opportunism, and it was from the experience of the working class movement in England that Lenin pieced together, ever more firmly, a scientific analysis of revisionism and opportunism. In 1912, writing on British liberal-labor policy, Lenin once again returned to the idea of a bought-off section inside the workers’ movement:

This split in the British workers’ socialist movement is no accident. It originated long ago. It arose out of the specific features of British history. Capitalism developed in Britain before it did in any other country, and for a long time Britain was the “workshop” of the world. This exceptional, monopoly position created relatively tolerable conditions of life for the labor aristocracy, i.e., for the minority of skilled, well-paid workers in Britain.[14]

Another country in which capitalism developed amid extremely favorable conditions was the U.S.A., and this was similarly reflected in the powerful A.F. of L. bureaucracy, which fully accepted “the bourgeois myth of ’harmony between labor and capital’”, and which openly took up the struggle against socialism.

The state of affairs in the American labor movement shows us, as it does in Britain, the remarkably clear-cut division between purely trade unionist and socialist striving.

The principal historical cause of the particular prominence and (temporary) strength of bourgeois labor policy in Britain and America is the long-standing political liberty and the exceptionally favorable conditions, in comparison with other countries, for the deep-going and widespread development of capitalism. These conditions have tended to produce within the working class an aristocracy that has trailed behind the bourgeoisie, betraying its own class.[15]

As the imperialist nations prepared the world war and exposed their annexationist motives, the national question again became the focus of the two line struggle within the socialist movement. Arguing against Rosa Luxembourg in 1914, Lenin explained Marx’s position on the relation between Ireland and England.

At first Marx thought that Ireland would not be liberated by the national movement of the oppressed nation, but by the working-class movement of the oppressor nation. Marx did not make an Absolute of the national movement, knowing, as he did, that only the victory of the working class can bring about the complete liberation of all nationalities. It is impossible to estimate beforehand all the possible relations between the bourgeois liberation movements of the oppressed nations and the proletarian emancipation movement of the oppressor nation (the very problem which today makes the national question in Russia so difficult). [Need we mention the U.S.!]

However, it so happened that the English working class fell under the influence of the Liberals for a fairly long time, became an appendage to the Liberals, and by adopting a liberal-labor policy left itself leaderless. The bourgeois liberation movement in Ireland grew stronger and assumed revolutionary forms. Marx reconsidered his view and corrected it.[16]

Marx’s new view was to advocate the separation of Ireland from England, and to urge the English workers to take up the cause of Irish independence, which Lenin said “serves as a splendid example of the attitude the proletariat of the oppressor nations should adopt towards national movements ...[17] The nationalism of the oppressor nation protection of the rights and privileges of the oppressor nation, even wrapping itself in the red flag, was called social-chauvinism or social-nationalism. The final transformation of opportunism into social-chauvinism came when the inter-imperialist rivalry, the competition for the annexation of oppressed nations, broke out into world war. At that point the opportunists openly sided with their own bourgeoisie, voted for war credits and urged their respective proletarian followings to slaughter foreign workers in the name of the “defense of the fatherland”. “The second International is dead”, declared Lenin.

”The Collapse of the Second International” was written in 1915, before Lenin’s book on imperialism. However, he makes numerous references to imperialism and its relation to opportunism in the European socialist movement.

An entire social stratum, consisting of parliamentarians, journalists, labor officials, privileged office personnel, and certain strata of the proletariat, has sprung up and has become amalgamated with its own national bourgeoisie, which has proved fully capable of appreciating and “adapting” it.[18]

And further on Lenin gives the clearest expression of the meaning of opportunism:

Opportunism means sacrificing the fundamental interests of the masses to the temporary interests of an insignificant minority of the workers, or, in other words, an alliance between a section of the workers and the bourgeoisie, directed against the mass of the proletariat. The war has made such an alliance particularly conspicuous and inescapable. Opportunism was engendered in the course of decades by the special features in the period of the development of capitalism, when the comparatively peaceful and cultured life of a stratum of privileged workingmen “bourgeoisified” them, gave them crumbs from the table of their national capitalists, and isolated them from the suffering, misery, and revolutionary temper of the impoverished and ruined masses. The imperialist war is the direct continuation and culmination of this state of affairs, because this is a war for the privileges of the Great-Power nations, for the repartition of colonies, and domination over other nations. To defend and strengthen their privileged position as a petty-bourgeois opportunist “upper-stratum” or aristocracy (and bureaucracy) of the working class–such is the natural wartime continuation of petty-bourgeois opportunist hopes and the corresponding tactics, such is the economic foundation of present-day social imperialism.[19]

“Social-imperialism”. The term should be only too familiar to present day activists who have followed, even superficially, the struggle against modern revisionism. In the first half of 1916 Lenin wrote his famous book Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, and a few months later summed up the question of the relation between imperialism and the split in socialism.

Is there any connection between imperialism and the monstrous and disgusting victory opportunism (in the form of social-chauvinism) has gained over the labor movement in Europe?

This is the fundamental question of modern socialism. And having in our Party literature fully established, first, the imperialist character of our era and of the present war, and, second, the inseparable historical connection between social-chauvinism and opportunism, as well as the intrinsic similarity of their political ideology, we can and must proceed to analyze this fundamental question.[20]

The “specific character” of imperialism is, Lenin wrote, “(1) monopoly capitalism; 2) parasitic or decaying capitalism; 3) moribund capitalism.” The five characteristics of imperialism which are often given in textbook definitions, are all forms in which monopoly, the “fundamental economic feature” of imperialism, manifests itself; cartels, trusts, etc.; domination of finance capital; seizure of the sources of raw materials; economic partition of the world, division and redivision of the market through negotiation and war; territorial partition. The second part of the threefold specific character of imperialism, capitalism in decay, is manifested in the tendency to political reaction “all along the line,” increasing corruption, bribery, fraud, etc., and the fact that a “privileged upper stratum of the proletariat in the imperialist countries lives partly at the expense of hundreds of millions” in the economically subjugated world. The third part of imperialism, its moribund character, means that capitalism is already “in transition to socialism,” i.e., the material basis for the socialist economic base is completed, the objective prerequisites are satisfied and as far as the development of the productive forces are concerned, the society is ripe, over-ripe, rotten ripe, for socialism. Thus Lenin said that imperialism is the eve of the proletarian revolution.[21]

The fact that “socialists” can write lengthy and elaborate explanations of imperialism and never mention the “fundamental question of modern socialism” should be no surprise, for as Lenin had written years before:

”There is a well known saying that if geometrical axioms affected human interests attempts would certainly be made to refute them.”[22] Not only do many so-called socialists and communists manage to evade the fundamental problem of modern socialism, they also manage to miss “the economic and political essence of imperialism.”

A handful of wealthy countries–there are only four of them, if we mean independent, really gigantic, “modern” wealth: England, France, the United States and Germany–have developed monopoly to vast proportions, they obtain superprofits running into hundreds, if not thousands, of millions, they “ride on the backs” of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people in other countries and fight among themselves for the division of the particularly rich, particularly fat and particularly easy spoils.

This, in fact, is the economic and political essence of imperialism, the profound contradictions of which Kautsky glosses over instead of exposing.

And the very next words following this:

The bourgeoisie of an imperialist “Great” Power can economically bribe the upper strata of “its” workers by spending on this a hundred million or so francs a year, for its superprofits most likely amount to about a thousand million. And how this little sop is divided among the labor ministers, “labor representatives” (remember Engels’ splendid analysis of the term), labor members of war industries committees, labor officials, workers belonging to the narrow craft unions, office employees, etc., etc., is a secondary question.[23]

Thus did the theoretical analysis of imperialism and the split in socialism develop. Thus was Marxism developed in new conditions.

But before going on, it is now possible to go back to Bernstein’s revisionism and fill in the development of opportunism within the socialist movement, especially as it affected our own history.

The Revisionists of the Second International

At the turn of the century in the most advanced capitalist countries, the conditions were already present for the revisionist trend. The development of monopoly capital, the evolution of free enterprise into monopoly control, was already a practical fact. The struggle over economic and territorial division and redivision, in a word, the struggle for hegemony, was already a practical fact. How did the revisionists analyze imperialism?

They saw it as a reformed mixture of capitalism and socialism, a sort of people’s capitalism. It was essentially a “theory of the productive forces” which took the transformation of the economic elements of capitalism into socialism, independent of the superstructure–that is, independent of the conscious making of revolution and the consequent material transformation of the state power–as the actual revolution. This is no minor mistake. As it turns out, the confusion of the eve of proletarian revolution with the dawn of socialism means increasingly to welcome and greet, to push towards, to nurture and pave the way for, not socialism but fascism.

The Marxist analysis begins with the productive forces. What significant changes occurred in the productive forces? They became increasingly socialized and concentrated. The concentration and scale of monopoly control became so pronounced that more and more the state had to take an active role in the economy, sometimes even nationalizing what was once considered free enterprise. The old free enterprise, the thousands of single, small unit productive establishments, gave way to the more efficient, more economical, “socialistic” way of organizing production. In this way, of course, the bourgeoisie itself created the conditions whereby the potential for planning became obvious. As the main productive force, the working class goes through the same process: socialization, concentration, centralization–prepared objectively for large scale organization, organization suited not only for little skirmishes with individual capitalists but for bigger battle along industrial lines against the power of monopoly capital. The inevitable development of state monopoly capitalism because of the scale and the scope (which is oriented towards empire) means that the economic and political struggles become objectively united.

Bernstein denied proletarianization and impoverishment of the masses because from his point of view, the vantage point of an official representative of the bourgeoisified workers, conditions were actually getting better under capitalism. He denied the class character of the state because the representatives of a narrow stratum of workers had been killed with kindness by the bourgeoisie and allowed to creep into the state apparatus. While Lenin understood the economist (trade unionist) mentality behind these ideas, he only later came to see that this economism in Europe and the U.S. was inseparable from the rotten alliance formed between the imperialist bourgeoisie and a section of the workers against the mass of the proletariat and in particular against the oppressed nations, an alliance in support of imperialism. Lenin understood that all that was needed in order to accomplish this malicious end was to bend to the spontaneous movement, to yield ever so slightly to the bourgeoisie in the theoretical struggle.

By 1917, socialist theory had so degenerated in Europe that Lenin had to resuscitate most of what Marx and Engels had to say on the subject of the state in order to defend the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia against the attacks of the majority of the Second International. He had to prove that “in transition to socialism” means on the edge of the proletarian revolution, the smashing of the state power of the bourgeoisie, and the establishment of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.[24] It was only possible to develop the productive forces, actually to liberate them, by a transformation in the relations of production. In order to accomplish this it is necessary to make a change in the superstructure; there must be the political supremacy of the proletariat, and its policies (leading the socialist revolution in the economic base) must be in effect. Socialism is a conscious revolution. But the revisionists argued that socialism was being taken car of by the (quantitative) evolution of capitalism, and therefore the dictatorship of the proletariat was no longer needed.

The opportunist’s argument always amounted to lulling the workers to sleep through flattery and Pollyannish optimism. The workers are now so strong that they don’t need any dictatorship. Democracy (actually bourgeois democracy) has brought the workers so much that they cannot any longer tolerate any contempt for it. That was Kautsky’s argument. The idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, he stated, “corresponds to a primitive stage in the working class movement,” whereas now the workers were “mature.”[25] Otto Bauer invented new sociological “factors of force”: numbers, organization, relation to production, activity, education. If the proletariat scored high on the scale of the “social factors of force” then it had no need for physical force in bringing socialism into being.[26]

After the October Revolution was consolidated, revisionism turned into its opposite–dogmatism–in an effort to salvage the opposition to Lenin and following him, Stalin. The rotten remnants of the chauvinist Second International came to the view that the peculiar features of the dictatorship of the proletariat were due to the economic backwardness of that country. This only proved, in their minds, that in order for socialism to succeed in Russia it was necessary for the proletariat to take power in the imperialist countries immediately. Some of these “leftists” were well motivated revolutionaries who made desperate attempts to seize state power but who simply could not rally the masses of workers against the opportunist leaders of the socialist parties. But in time a dogmatic tendency grew up, clinging to the decisive moments of the revolutionary wave of 1917-21, and asserting over and over that the real Marxist revolution is the one in the advanced capitalist countries and that the state in Russia was a temporary aberration. Their theory of imperialism was that imperialism wipes out nations and therefore liquidates the national question. The only possible road, in their view, was the socialist revolution in the most advanced capitalist countries, countries which would, by virtue of the domination of the world economy, transform the entire world to socialist relations with ease. Needless to say, with such ideal conditions, the workers would have no need for a dictatorship . . .[27]

In the U.S. the theoretical and practical leadership of the socialist movement paralleled the development in Europe. Morris Hillquit, one of the main theoreticians in the Socialist Party, was Bernstein’s echo:

Under the pressure of the socialist and labor movement in all civilized countries, the state has acquired a new significance as an instrument of social and economic reform. Such reforms have already demonstrated the ability of the state to curb the industrial autocracy of the ruling classes and to protect the workers from excessive exploitation by their employers.

The modern state, originally the tool in the hands of the capitalist class for the exploitation of the workers, is gradually coming to be recognized by the latter as a most potent instrument for the modification and ultimate abolition of the capitalist class rule. In the general scheme of socialism, the state has, therefore, the very important mission of paving the way for the transition from present conditions to socialism. The state in that role is generally styled in the literature of socialism the “period of transition,” or the “transitional state.” Beyond it lies the pure socialist order.[28]

Morris Hillquit was no amateur, ignorant of the history of the U.S., much less of the contemporary U.S. circumstances. He must have known, for it certainly was common knowledge, that the Negro people were excluded from democratic rights. Only a few years before Hillquit wrote his book the Supreme Court had handed down its infamous “separate but equal” decision, and the number of lynchings over the previous decade had reached the thousands. He knew also that the main body of the proletariat had not one iota of economic democracy. This only goes to demonstrate that Hillquit’s measure of democracy was the reforms which the imperialist state granted the officials of the labor unions and the status of legitimacy accorded to the “socialist” movement. His standpoint was precisely that of an alliance between the upper stratum of the working class and the imperialist bourgeoisie against the oppressed nations and the proletarian masses.

On the other hand, we can’t hold Hillquit responsible for the fact that he did not predate Lenin and Stalin on the national and colonial question. We can’t test the Socialist Party by the fact that it did not conceptualize the oppression of the Negro people as national oppression. The Socialist Party can only be evaluated by whether it opposed racial discrimination and actively took up the fight for equal rights. And it doesn’t pass the test. At its best the party passed resolutions against the ideas of racial supremacy. One extremely perceptive observer of the Socialist movement at that time was W. E. B. DuBois, a northern Negro and a member of the radical bourgeois intelligentsia. “Many socialists have acquiesced” in a so-called “socialist program” which would “exclude Negroes.”

The general attitude of thinking members of the party has been this: We roust not turn aside from the great objects of socialism to take up this issue of the American Negro; let the question wait; when the objects of socialism are achieved, this problem will be settled along with other problems.

DuBois called this a “program of socialistic opportunism.” DuBois could see, though from the standpoint of radical bourgeois ethics, the elements of the relation between opportunism and the national question. “What becomes of socialism,” he asked, in his eloquent style, “when it engages in such a fight for human downfall? Wither are gone its lofty aspirations and high resolve–its songs and comradeship?” The problem as DuBois saw it was that the party could either capitulate to the potential political power of “Southern populism” with its racist platform and thereby gain mass influence; or, take up the fight for Negro rights and become known as a “party of the Negro,” substantially smaller with less possibilities of influencing the bourgeois state. It is well to remember that DuBois was not a socialist and was opposing socialism by posing the problem as a dilemma, i.e., a problem with none other than bad resolutions, equals no resolution.[29]

The Socialist Party had a left wing which came to oppose Bernstein revisionism, especially as the Russian Bolsheviks proved victorious. But this left wing, which reflected the struggle of the revolutionary elements of the class against the reformist elements, did not have a history of struggle against white supremacy or national oppression. It did take up the cause of industrial unionism and eventually helped to form the IWW. In the context of industrial organizing the left-socialists and “wobblies” came up against the split in the class and its connection to the special oppression of the Negro people, and it was in that context that they came to support the demand for Negro equality. Theoretically the left wing of the socialist movement relied on the revisionists, and dogmatists like Daniel DeLeon, while practically they tailed after the anarcho-syndicalist IWW. The imperialist war provided another touchstone dividing the left and right wings of the party, and reflecting the international split in socialism. Eugene Debs is a good example of the contradictions within the left: Debs represented the revolutionary workers in his stand on the imperialist war as against the outright social-imperialists who constituted the majority of the party, yet he never took up the struggle for Negro rights, and preferred to sympathize with Southern populism. Overall, the left wing of the party represented only the more militant reformists and syndicalists and did not represent a definite revolutionary Marxist trend within the class.

The split in the Socialist movement did not arise out of the struggle over the war, industrial unions or the Negro question. The split occurred on the question of support for the Soviet state and affiliation with the Communist International. The left wing of the Socialist party, along with sections of the IWW, and other radical organizations, comprised the main bloc forming what eventually became the Communist Party U.S.A.

Was The Communist Party U.S.A. Always a Revisionist Party?[30]

The Communist Party did not introduce anything new on the question of the split in the working class or the national question. Even after the publication and widespread reading of Lenin’s main works on imperialism, the party leaders did not understand the oppression of the Negro people as part of the national question, nor did they ever understand, with all the battles fought against it, the omnipresent influence of revisionism. The one thing the Communist Party did understand, in the early years, was that the strength of world communism was based on the October Revolution, and the ideological center of world communism was the Executive Committee of the Communist International.

It was the Comintern who fought for the idea of self-determination for the Negro Nation and it was the leaders of the CPUS A who resisted it. Finally in 1929 the party accepted the “Comintern Resolution on the Negro Question in the U.S.” which, for any weaknesses it may have contained due to compromises, set the Negro question right side up for the first time in U.S. history. Under the influence of the Comintern the CPUSA was at its best and when the crisis hit the U.S. the CP quickly emerged as the leader of the mass struggles for reforms. During those years (approximately 1928-34) the party took up the struggle for Negro rights and became known, just as DuBois had predicted, as the “Party of the Negro.”[31]

But the party was never prepared to be the theoretical vanguard of the proletariat, never prepared to lead the proletariat to revolution. All during the twenties the contradictions inside the party were not fought out over well defined, independently thought out political lines. Rather, the struggles were based on organizational factions which represented two poles united in opposition to the proletarian class stand: one, securing a backing for one’s group from the Comintern, the other, pleading exceptionalism for the U.S. and rejecting universally applicable principles. The factions often combined these, just as they combined, spontaneously, elements of anarcho-syndicalism and reformism. Lovestone and his followers were thrown out because of their American Exceptionalism and Cannon was thrown out for his Trotskyism, but no line specific to the U.S. was ever determined. Browder became the top leader of the party but not because he represented any definite line which emerged victorious in struggle with Lovestone’s line or Cannon’s line.

As Stalin pointed out, factionalism was the “fundamental evil” of the party, and in theory the root of the opportunism in the party was the persistent error of “exaggerating the specific features of American capitalism.”[32]

How is this error to be understood? American exceptionalism, or exaggerating the specific features of U.S. capitalism, is a line which coincides with, and tails lovingly after, the liberal bourgeois view of U.S. capitalism–that Marxism doesn’t apply here, that a system of class collaboration rather than class struggle can be built up. This error is one of the principal theoretical forms of U.S. chauvinism. Ironically, it fails completely to take into consideration that which is specific to U.S. capitalism, namely, the rise of U.S. imperialism through the subjugation of the Negro nation and the taking of a part of Mexico.

Thus, Browder was no less an American Exceptionalist than Lovestone. The general success of the party in the early thirties proved to be due to the general spontaneous upsurge in those years, of which the party was a part. The mass, spontaneously populist, upsurge swallowed up the party ideologically, and as soon as the Comintern’s line shifted to the “United Front Against Fascism,” Browder used this as the opportunity to steer the party straight into the arms of the liberal bourgeoisie.

The propaganda and agitation on the Negro Nation diminished year by year (with a brief revival 1939-40) and the general theory was thrown out of the party program in 1944, immediately after the Comintern dissolved and could no longer influence the debate. Browder, chief revisionist, wrote clearly and unmistakably as a bourgeois liberal on the question, tying it, like Morris Hillquit, to “general democracy”, the “increasing role and influence” of the working class, and tied all this together into the formal liquidation of the party.

The decision of the Negro people is therefore already made. It is that the Negro people do see the opportunity ... of approximating the position of equal citizens in America. This in itself is an exercise of the right of self-determination by the Negro people. By their attitude the Negro people have exercised their historical right of self-determination.

It is this choice which gives the possibility in this period of integrating the Negro people in the general democracy of our country on the basis of complete and unconditional equality, of solving the question now and no longer postponing it. The immediate achievement in this period, under the present American system, of complete equality for the Negroes, has been made possible by the war crisis and by the character of this war as a people’s war of national liberation.

... I think that we can say that an approximation of that achievement is within our reach today under capitalism, under the existing American system, under the changing relationship of forces, in which labor and the people exert an ever increasing political role and influence.[33]

True to revisionist thinking, true to the deception of the bourgeois politician forced to justify his policy in Marxist terminology, Browder points to new conditions, to “the changing relationship of forces.”

William Z. Foster, who is often portrayed as the staunch fighter against revisionism in the party, does not fill that picture. Foster saved the party from Browder but he didn’t save Marxism-Leninism from revisionism and therefore ended up presiding over the reformation of the revisionist organization and line.

It was Foster who further confused the national question and reinforced the opportunism of the party by his theory of ”the nation within a nation.”[34] And it was Foster who, in 1948, articulated the general line of the peaceful anti-monopoly coalition, no different in substance from Browder’s, and which remains the party’s liberal reformist program to this very day.

Our party’s political line is thus based upon the assumption that it is possible, under present political conditions in the United States, for the broad masses of the people, militantly led by the trade unions and a strong mass political party, to elect a coalition, anti-monopoly government.

This new type government, said Foster, “could, by curbing and defeating capitalist violence, orient themselves in the direction of building socialism.”[35]

What were the new conditions which Foster used to justify his transitional program? Between 1917 and 1945 there was one socialist country, one country where the proletariat actually held state power. In 1948-49 all of Eastern Europe had governments sympathetic to the Soviet Union and made up of what was left of the Communist leadership plus the leading non-communist elements who professed a belief in socialism and who had joined in the armed resistance to Nazi aggression. Furthermore, China was in the hands of the Communist Party. The national liberation movement was taking on an increasing role against imperialism in world affairs. There definitely existed new conditions.

Stalin referred to the new conditions. The 81 Party Statement of 1960 mentions these new conditions and the CPC certainly affirmed this evaluation.[36] But here there arose a split between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism. The Chinese comrades, the Albanians and other Marxist-Leninists around the world made a concrete analysis of concrete conditions; they interpreted the new conditions to mean more favorable conditions for the winning of the masses to the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, more favorable conditions for revolutionary struggle. But the revisionists used the new conditions as an excuse to discard fundamental principles. The revisionists saw the new conditions as meaning that the spontaneous movement was already leading to socialism.

The Marxist-Leninists, led by the Chinese and Albanian comrades, pinpointed the essence of modern revisionism in the transformation of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union to the “state of the whole people” and the similar parallel transformation of the party into the “party of the entire people.”[37] If one throws out the dictatorship of the proletariat, one throws out the aim of the struggle, the struggle for state power. Since the Soviet party theoreticians were struggling for the restoration of the bourgeois state, they first had to take over the Communist Party. They declared a new era of classlessness and in theory liquidated any need for a class party and a class state. This capitulation to the bourgeoisie theoretically was only a matter of “preparing public opinion,” since the practical reality of the new state and party was their practical transformation into instruments of bourgeois dictatorship and bourgeois ideology.

By the time the revisionist clique took over in the Soviet Union, the party in the U.S. was again facing the practical question of liquidation. “Creative Marxism” so dominated the party organs that the dropping of “Leninism” from the name of the party’s ideology was seriously proposed and discussed.[38] The form of the party was once again preserved, while the aspect of Marxism-Leninism, the subordinate proletarian substance of the party, was further beaten back. In 1960, the old position on the Negro nation was formally rejected.[39]

The “Creative Marxism” of the Soviet-Revisionist Clique[40]

In 1970, the Soviet social-imperialist ruling clique “celebrated” the centenary of Lenin’s birth and published a number of pamphlets on Lenin’s contributions, Lenin’s theory, the entire heritage of Leninism, etc. Any one of these pamphlets can be analyzed from the standpoint of Lenin’s actual theories and it can be demonstrated from this that the new Soviet scholars distort Lenin to the point of falsification.

As an example take “Lenin’s Doctrine of Imperialism and Our Time.”[41] In the first thesis, the authors state that Lenin’s analysis of imperialism was a “development of creative Marxism,” “conclusively proving that it was the last stage of capitalism, the eve of socialist revolution.” But what they are out to prove is something quite different. They are out to prove that the imperialist system is now, despite its drive toward reaction, pressured in the direction of socialism by the combination of world forces arrayed against it. They are out to obscure the antithesis in principle between liberalism and scientific socialism. When they are done “explaining” Lenin, his contribution is turned into a lifeless dogma to be remembered, in chopped up bits and pieces, on his birthday. When they are done “applying” Lenin “creatively” to the new conditions they end up with Bernstein-Hillquit.

The socio-political aspect of the world has radically changed. Today, the world revolutionary process is motivated by three main driving forces–the socialist countries, the working-class movement in the developed capitalist countries and the national-liberation movement, (p. 7)

What do they mean by “the socialist countries?” First, they mean that in the Soviet Union, classes have been eliminated, the restoration of capitalism is impossible, and, having declared the “state of the whole people” and the “party of the entire people,” is now proceeding on to “the building of communism in the USSR.”

Second, they mean that there are a whole number of socialist countries–including all of Eastern Europe, China, other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America–which form a world socialist economic system. What is actually being referred to is the social-imperialist empire, or hoped-for empire, notwithstanding the opposition of China, Albania and other Marxist-Leninist forces within it.

What do they mean by the working class movement in the developed capitalist countries? Nowhere in the article is there reference to the split in this working class movement and its connection to the Leninist analysis of imperialism, so that in the first place they mean a working class movement which as a whole has “compelled the imperialist bourgeoisie to make serious concessions” due to its “better organization, greater militancy and . . . improved political position.” Thus the working class movement has become more “influential.” As to the “labor aristocracy,” the most bourgeoisified stratum of the working class, which occupied so much of Lenin’s attention because it provides the class basis for reformism within the movement, the article actually says that the development of imperialism has diminished this stratum:

Greater uniformity of working conditions in different industries, extension of the economic gains of the working class, the involvement of ever new contingents in sharp economic and political struggle–all take their toll of the “labor aristocracy” stratum as a social group opposed to the rest of the working class. (p.52)

The working class has become so strong (out of power) and influential in the capitalist countries that “this raises the point that the working class might, even before winning complete political victory, develop into a factor in the intricate mechanism of state regulation . . .

By becoming a factor in the state mechanism, the working class movement is able to offset the offensive on democracy characteristic of the present stage in the development of capitalism . .. Thus, under the new relationship of class forces it is possible not only to conduct a successful struggle in defense of democracy, but also to extend democracy, to infuse it with new social content, to squeeze the financial oligarchy out of the driver’s seat and ultimately to undermine the political position of monopoly capital, (p. 58)

Thus they mean a working class movement which in fact is a part of the imperialist state apparatus, or creeping into it, whose role is to defend the gains made and push for more gains until, lo and behold, the imperialists will have committed suicide through the granting of too many concessions.

What do they mean by the national liberation movement? They mean first of all the developing countries, the new states. They mean the “former colonies,” the “newly free countries.” According to the authors, there has occurred a “collapse of the colonial system.” The movement they are talking about is the movement of newly independent states, where presumably the question of political power has already been decided, for better economic conditions in the world market, for more economic independence from imperialism. This is to make a reform movement out of the national liberation movement, which is a revolutionary movement, a movement for an independent state, a movement to throw imperialism out. Thus, taken altogether, the new combination of forces in the world:

promotes a leftward shift in industrially developed capitalist countries, a stronger and more effective unification of the forces advocating a radical reconstruction of capitalist society. As imperialism loses ground it becomes increasingly harder for it to pursue a policy for regaining its power in the former colonial areas and makes it easier for peoples still under imperialist domination, to attain political liberation, (p. 48)

The article devotes much space to the monopoly features of capitalism, the growth of state monopoly capitalism, the material preparation for socialism, etc., etc. There is only the one reference to parasitism–“The parasitic militarist nature of the state distorts the system of state regulation of the economy.” (p. 25) It should be asked how the parasitic features of the imperialist state, which are part of the nature of that state, can be considered as distorting another natural feature of that same state.

But this distortion of Lenin, this “creative application” is as nothing compared to the outright falsification in the “Theses on the Centenary of the Birth of Lenin.” In the original version of history, Otto Bauer put forth his theory of the “social factors of strength” in order to prove that the dictatorship of the proletariat was not needed. Lenin defended the dictatorship of the proletariat and said that Bauer’s theory was “an example of what Marxism has been reduced to, of the kind of banality and defence of the exploiters to which the most revolutionary theory can be reduced.” He called it “a German variety of philistinism.” That was in the original version of history. But in the newly fabricated version, Bauer’s theory is attributed to Lenin!

In the draft plan for his report on the International Situation and the Main Tasks of the Comintern, Lenin noted five “social factors of strength” of the working class: 1) numbers, 2) organization, 3) place in the process of production and distribution, 4) activity, and education. Since Lenin wrote this the size of the working class has sharply increased. It has become infinitely better organized and politically active, and is better educated and better trained.

Who was responsible for this falsification? The Central Committee of the CPSU. The Theses were printed in Pravda 12/23/69 and published in dozens of languages through the “Information Bulletin” of World Marxist Review.[42] As the Chinese said, this was an “outspoken revelation.”[43]

Where We Are At

The proletariat in North America, in Europe–east and west–and in the Soviet Union, is without an organization representing its revolutionary interests, without consolidated Marxist-Leninist parties. At this point the proletariat in these countries is incapable of playing an independent role in any historical movement of the people. The spontaneous movement in the U.S. is led by the bourgeoisie, through its petty-bourgeois interpreters to the workers. Economism is the dominant mentality of the working class. In Europe the spontaneous movement is led by the bourgeoisie through its agents in the labor movement and revisionist parties; in the Soviet Union through the revisionist party, etc. Theoretically, revisionism dominates the scene. Is this not a time when the creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory is decisive? Is this not one of those times, of which Lenin said, “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement?”

Lenin gave three reasons why that proposition was especially true for the Russian Social Democrats. We should compare our situation with theirs:

first . . . the fact that our Party is only in process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined, and it has as yet far from settled accounts with the other trends of revolutionary thought that threaten to divert the movement from the correct path . . . Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an “unimportant” error may lead to most deplorable consequences, and only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other “shade.”

Secondly, the Social-Democratic movement is in its very essence an international movement. This means, not only that we must combat national chauvinism, but that an incipient movement in a young country can be successful only if it makes use of the experiences of other countries. In order to make use of these experiences it is not enough merely to be acquainted with them, or simply to copy out the latest resolutions. What is required is the ability to treat these experiences critically and to test them independently . . .[44]

Thirdly, . . . we wish to state only that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.

That was how Lenin fought economism. The fight against economism continues but it has taken on a different form. It is now a part of the general problem of the split in the working class, a part of the general problem of a tendency of a stratum within the proletariat towards social-reformism.

The struggle for a Marxist-Leninist party in the U.S., after suffering a protracted defeat at the hands of the CPUSA revisionists, is once again asserting its inevitable power. The struggle against revisionism has taken many forms and has recently given rise to new organizations wearing the mantle of Marxism-Leninism.

Within this movement, naturally, there exists the contradiction between reformism and revolutionary Marxism; some people and organizations are struggling to overthrow revisionism, to build a Marxist-Leninist party rooted in the most oppressed and exploited workers. Other people and organizations are struggling to reform revisionism, to build a party wherein revisionism and Marxism can be reconciled. The latter are obstructing communism by giving revisionism new life and have therefore made themselves part of the target.


[7] V.I. Lenin, Our Programme, LCW, 4:211-12

[8] What Is To Be Done? (“WITBD”)*, LCW, 5:353

[9] The International Socialist Congress In Stuttgart, LCW, 13:75-77

[10] ibid. Also see article following, by the same title.

[11] Marxism and Revisionism,* LCW, 15:29-40

[12] Differences in the European Labor Movement, LCW, 16:347-59

[13] ibid.

[14] Debates In Britain On Liberal Labor Policy, LCW, 18:360

[15] In America, LCW, 36:214-15

[16] The Right of Nations to Self-Determination*, section 8, “The Utopian Karl Marx and the Practical Rosa Luxembourg,” LCW, 20:435-42

[17] ibid. (Marx and Engels writings on Ireland are collected in a recent volume, Ireland and the Irish Question, International Publishers, N.Y. 1972)

[18] The Collapse Of The Second International*, LCW, 21:250. See also Opportunism and the Collapse of The Second International*, LCW, 22:111-12, where Lenin says, “Social-chauvinism and opportunism have the same class basis, namely, the alliance of a small section of privileged workers with “their” national bourgeoisie against the working-class masses; . . . .”

[19] 21:242-43, 222-23

[20] Imperialism And The Split In Socialism*, LCW, 23:105.

[21] 1920 preface to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism*, LCW, 22:194.

[22] Marxism and Revisionism*, LCW, 15:29

[23] Imperialism and The Split In Socialism*, LCW, 23:115

[24] State and Revolution*, LCW, 25: the preface, on p. 384, says that the revolutionary set of events “can only be understood as a link in a chain of socialist proletarian revolutions being caused by the imperialist war. The question of the relation of the socialist proletarian revolution to the state, therefore, is acquiring not only practical political importance, but also the significance of a most urgent problem of the day, the problem of explaining to the masses what they will have to do before long to free themselves from capitalist tyranny.”

[25] Karl Kautsky, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Ann Arbor Paperback, U. of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1964, pp. 21-24. (originally written in 1918)

[26] V.I. Lenin, Report On The International Situation and The Fundamental Tasks of The Communist International, July 19, 1920, LCW, 31:228-30. Bauer’s book was called Bolshevism Or Social-Democracy. Bauer was also the advocate of the social-chauvinist policy of ”cultural-national autonomy” on the national question.

[27] These “left”-communists eventually grouped around Trotsky in their opposition to the Soviet state. In turn Trotsky led the ”left-” opposition straight into unity with the right-opposition, the Bernstein-Kautsky wing of international social-democracy, and this meant the link up to the ruling classes of the imperialist countries.

[28] Morris Hillquit, Socialism in Theory and Practice, The MacMillan Company, N.Y., 1909, pp. 97-98

[29] W.E.B. DuBois, “Socialism and the Negro Problem” (1913), W.E.B. DuBois Speaks, P. S. Foner, Ed., Pathfinder Press, N.Y., 1970. This is the theoretical foundation of the “white skin privilege” line.

[30] The unraveling of the history of the CPUSA, of our whole communist heritage, has just begun, and these writings are inadequate to that task. Recently The Communist League has published Admiral Kilpatrick’s On the Struggle Against Revisionism, Stalin’s Speeches on the American Communist Party, as well as an earlier document tracing the origin of the League, Dialectics of the Development of the Communist League. Outside of these contributions, the Marxist-Leninist movement has been completely dependent upon William Z. Foster’s books (History of the Communist Party of the United States, History of the Three Internationals) which, while containing much information, are not a revolutionary Marxist theoretical critique of revisionism, and do not represent a scientific analysis of the Party’s history.

[31] The party took up the struggle for Negro rights, and in that distinguished itself from the previous opportunist parties of the 2nd International. But apparently none of the party leaders understood the question even enough to elaborate and explain it theoretically. The Comintern resolution is reprinted as an appendix to CL’s The Negro National-Colonial Question. Last year excerpts from Harry Haywood s autobiographical account of the communist movement appeared in the Guardian newspaper (8/8/73), but the book has yet to be published.

[32] Stalin’s Speeches on the American Communist Party, Proletarian Publishers, S.F. 1974, p. 11, 26. It is important to remember that there is nothing exceptional about “American exceptionalism.” The British Communist Party offered their theory of peaceful transition to socialism in 1951 under the banner of “The British Road to Socialism,” and Togliatti mapped out an “Italian road.” All this goes to show that exceptionalism is nothing more than social-reformism adapted to the specific features of the bourgeoisie of particular capitalist nations, or social-chauvinism.

[33] Browder, “On the Negroes and the Right of Self-Determination,” The Communist Jan. 1944, pp. 84-85. As quoted by Wilson Record in his The Negro and the Communist Party, U. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1951, p. 219.

[34] William Z. Foster, preface to The Negro People in American History, International Publ., N.Y., 1954.

[35] William Z. Foster, The Twilight of World Capitalism, International Publishers, N.Y., 1949, p. 127. In 1932, in Toward Soviet America (Int’l Publ., N.Y.), Foster said, “By the term ’abolition’ of capitalism we mean its overthrow in open struggle by the toiling masses, led by the proletariat.” And, “the working class cannot itself come into power without civil war.” (pp. 212-14). The 1932 quote appears at the beginning of the chapter titled “The Revolutionary Way out of the Crisis;” the 1949 quote appears at the end of the chapter titled “The Fight for Peace and Freedom.” Foster’s reference to the political possibilities in 1948-49 are to the building of the Progressive Party which ran Henry Wallace unsuccessfully in 1948. Al Richmond, former editor of The People’s World, recalls that despite Wallace’s poor showing (slightly over a million votes) the illusion persisted among communists that the new party represented the vehicle to imminent political power. ”So strong was this illusion that even after the vote was counted one authoritative Communist comment (by Eugene Dennis) compared it with the showing of the newborn Republican party in 1856. Taken literally this parallel anticipated that in 1952 the Progressive party would be contesting power (its presidential vote in New York and California dropped to 87,000 in 1952, from 700,000 in 1948.)” (A Long View from the Left, Memoirs of an American Revolutionary, Houghton-Miflin Company, Boston, 1973, pp. 292-93). This gives some indication of the extreme subjectivism of the ideological leaders of the party in that period.

[36] In 1957 Mao Tsetung used an old Chinese metaphor to describe the new international situation: ”The east wind prevails over the west wind.” This is quoted and explained in “Two Different Lines on the Question of War and Peace,” the fifth of nine “comments” comprising The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1965, pp. 237-38. The first “comment,” “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement,” states the central issue: “whether or not to accept the fact that the people still living under the imperialist and capitalist system who comprise two-thirds of the world’s population, need to make revolution, and whether or not to accept the fact that the people already on the socialist road, who comprise one-third of the world’s population, need to carry their revolution forward to the end.” (same book, pp. 4-5)

[37] The 22nd Congress of the CPSU (1962) approved the new “Programme of the CPSU,” called by revisionist scholars “the Communist Manifesto of our time.” (Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow, 2nd revised edition, 1963, p. 644). Quoting the programme, the book states that this is a “new, fundamentally important thesis of Marxist-Leninist theory”– “that the dictatorship of the proletariat ceases to be necessary before the time when the state withers away” (p. 595). “The state,” says the new Programme, “which arose as a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, has, in the new, contemporary stage, become a state of the entire people, an organ expressing the interests and will of the people as a whole.” (p. 595). “The programme of the CPSU is a program of the whole Soviet people” (p. 645). The party is referred to as “the vanguard of the people” (p. 689).

[38] Proceedings of the 16th Convention of the Communist Party U.S.A., (February 1957) New Century Publishers N.Y., 1957. Also the party’s monthly theoretical magazine Political Affairs during 1956. What can be easily seen from the documents is that by the time of the convention discussion, the advocates of a “change in form”–including John Gates, editor of the Daily Worker and others as influential-decided not to carry out a struggle knowing they would be in the minority. Therefore there was no open struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism at the convention. The scattered few blows at revisionism were completely swallowed up by morbid bourgeois “comradeship.” Incidentally, a large part of the discussion on the Negro Question was accidentally not taped!

[39] “Draft Resolution on the Theoretical Aspects of the Negro Question,” Political Affairs, January 1959, and published in a separate Party Monograph, p. 18. “The American nation of the U.S. is a historically derived, national formation; an amalgamation of more or less well-differentiated nationalities. The Negro people are the most severely oppressed and all-sidedly exploited of all the peoples who make up the American nation of the U.S.”

[40] The “creative Marxism” of the Soviet revisionists has already been spoken to by Lenin: ”unbelievably weak theoretically–mere repetition of someone else’s ideas.” ”In effect it is opportunism.”

[41] Leninism versus Imperialism. The Present Stage, theses prepared by the Institute of World Economics and International Relations, USSR Academy of Sciences, and other “Soviet scholars and Journalists.” Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, 1969

[42] Information Bulletin of World Marxist Review, Vol. 8, 1-2, Progress Books, Toronto, 1970.

[43] “An Outspoken Revelation,” article appearing in Chinese publications {Peking Review, China Reconstructs, Chinese Literature) along with “Leninism or Social Imperialism” in April and May of 1970.

[44] W1TBD?, Ch. 1-D, LCW, 5.