Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Collective

Proletarian Revolution and the Split in the Working Class

Introduction: The Fundamental Question of Modern Socialism

“Leninism is Marxism in the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution”[1] – in one sentence Stalin summarized the significance of Leninism, which points out to the world proletariat and oppressed peoples the changed character of capitalism under conditions of monopolies, when finance capital strives to annex and dominate the whole world. This is imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, characterized by the growth of monopolies, in which the bourgeoisie’s drive for maximum profits leads to the plunder of whole nations, the actual annexation of nations and territories as colonies and semi-colonies of the imperialist powers. This is an era in which capitalism has become moribund, in which it is decaying and dying. The international situation is characterized by the general crisis of capitalism, which is an ”all-round crisis of the world capitalist system, embracing both the economic and political spheres.”[2] This is the era in which the bourgeoisie is forced to rely on fascism and imperialist war to maintain its rule. Imperialism is also the eve of the socialist revolution, where the proletariat and oppressed peoples rise up and overthrow their exploiters forever. As revolution is the main trend in the world today, either imperialist war will result in proletarian revolution, or revolution will prevent war. It was Lenin who formulated the strategy and tactics of proletarian revolution.

Lenin revealed the connection between the era of imperialism and the victory of opportunism within the working class movement. The bourgeoisie of an imperialist country can bribe sections of the working class, from superprofits obtained by the plunder of oppressed nations and peoples. An objective split in the class has occurred; the upper stratum, or labor aristocracy (which includes the trade union bureaucrats, skilled craft workers, and others), has a material interest in maintaining capitalism. Lenin pointed out: ”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...[3]

Lenin’s theses on imperialism and proletarian revolution were established only through fierce struggle against the agents of the bourgeoisie within the working class. These agents were represented by Karl Kautsky and the opportunists of the Second International, prior to World War 1, and today can be found in the form of the modern revisionists based in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and here at home in the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and the reformism and opportunism of the labor bureaucrats. They, along with the CPUSA, are based within the upper strata of the working class, which are, as Lenin said, ”vehicles for bourgeois ideology” and ”watchdogs of capitalism”. This bribed section infects the working class movement with reformism and national chauvinism, seeking to unite labor and capital and prevent proletarian revolution. “Opportunism and social-chauvinism have the same political content, namely, class collaboration, repudiation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, repudiation of revolutionary action, unconditional acceptance of bourgeois legality, confidence in the bourgeoisie and lack of confidence in the proletariat.[4]

The development of North American trade unions, particularly the AFL-CIO, shows the development of the labor aristocracy, the roots of opportunism, and the split within the working class movement which exists today. This process coincided with the expansion of US capital, the rise of US imperialism, and the plunder of territories and colonies – the slaughter of the Native American peoples, the annexation of the Southwest from Mexico, the vicious subjugation of the Black Nation, the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the consequent annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Hawaii, the march of the US military and big business into the Caribbean and Central America. This was the history of US imperialism at the turn of the 19th century, and it went hand in hand with the growth of the labor aristocracy, bribed from imperialist superprofits.

There is a real connection, then, between imperialism and the victory of opportunism in the US labor movement. As Lenin said, “this is the fundamental question of modern socialism[5], and it is to this question that this pamphlet is addressed.


[1] J.V. Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, p. 2,

[2] J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Foreign Languages Press, p. 58.

[3] V.I. Lenin, Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International”, Collected Works (CW), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964; Vol. 22, p. 112.

[4] Ibid.

[5] V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, CW, Vol. 23, p. 105 (our emphasis).