Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Martin Nicolaus

Marxism or Klonskyism?

How the October League’s top circle, led by M. Klonsky, uses method of suppression and demagogy to consolidate Browderite line on way to its “founding congress.” A lesson by negative example in party-building.

2. Political Agitation and the ’Class Point of View’

A most suitable starting point for studying the difference of lines in our controversy is the article by Lenin which the Klonsky circle does not wish the Marxist-Leninist movement to study, namely Lenin’s “Political Agitation and the ’Class Point of View’.”

There are some points in this article which are particular to the Russian conditions of that time (1902) and not applicable here and now. But there are other points – and these are the main points – which take us straight to the heart of the issue.

Lenin begins his article with an illustration. A certain high Russian nobleman, Stakhovich, has made a speech urging a political reform, extended freedom of religion. A Tsarist newspaper sharply attacks the nobleman’s speech. Lenin’s newspaper Iskra follows this controversy in detail, analyzing the arguments of both sides and the material interests that stand behind them.

For doing so, Iskra in turn is attacked by several circles of Russian Social-Democrats, who accuse it of “departing from the ’class point of view’ for striving ... to follow all manifestations of liberal discontent and protest.” (Collected Works Vol. 5, p. 339) These critics seek to persuade Iskra “to abandon the many-sided campaign of exposure (i.e. the widest possible political agitation) against the autocracy.”

And indeed, the pages of Iskra devote extensive coverage to the analysis of contradictions between and within different sections of the Russian ruling strata, exploring at length the rifts between the bourgeoisie and the autocracy, within the bourgeoisie, and within the autocracy itself, and between them and other strata. So much does Iskra focus on these questions that one of the critics exclaims in mock horror: “’Good Lord, what is this – a Zemstvo paper?’”, meaning, a review of government affairs?

Lenin’s reply to these critics – they come from the openly Right opportunist (Economist) side and from the sham “leftist” Economist-terrorist corner – consists of two parts.


Firstly, he criticizes the erroneous class analysis underlying some of the criticisms. He points out that the interests of the Tsarist autocracy do not coincide fully with the interests of all sections of the Russian bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, as some of the critics believe. The contradictions between sections of the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the autocracy on the other, give rise to a liberal opposition to Tsarism; and under these conditions, Lenin points out, the proletariat is obliged, among other things, to provide “support for the liberal opposition.” (p. 341)

This portion of Lenin’s reply to the critics is clearly bound up to the concrete conditions in Russia at that time, and does not have general validity for here and now. “Our” big bourgeoisie no longer has any revolutionary tasks to fulfill toward any other class, as the Russian bourgeoisie did toward the Tsarist autocracy. Our oligarchs of banking and industry are the ruling class. The liberal tendency in the imperialist ruling class thus no longer forms a “liberal opposition” to the ruling class, but nothing more than a liberal “opposition” within the ruling class – an “opposition” arising out of the conflict between different rival groups of monopolists, and varying in shape and intensity with the heat of the class struggle, the world situation, the constantly changing strengths of the different financial groups, etc. Nor does the petty-bourgeoisie in the U.S. today, as a general principle, have any unfulfilled revolutionary tasks before it; this can be said only of the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nationalities, where the right of self-determination or of territorial autonomy (regional and local) has been suppressed by the U.S. monopoly capitalists. It is by no means the liberal section of the national bourgeoisie of the oppressed nationalities which champions the fight for the right of self-determination, however.

All this, however, is not at all the main point in this immediate context, and its further development belongs into the future discussion of program for the U.S. revolution. (A remark in passing: If Comrade Klonsky persists until then in his completely degenerate fabrication that I upheld a “strategy of alliance with the liberal imperialists” in our controversy, I shall be forced not only to publish photostatic copies of the original documents of the struggle to expose his “poetic license” and “gift of invention” with quotes, but also to make a compilation of all the remarks of praise and flattery for the liberal imperialists and their agents that appeared in The Call from 1973-75 under Klonsky’s editorship. In attempting with a most reckless bluff to use me as a scapegoat for that particular deviation, Klonsky tacitly confesses that the gravest charge he could bring against me is that of upholding Klonskyism. Indeed, I confess I did, a year and a half ago at a public forum in Seattle, find myself, contrary to my will, advocating a strategy of alliance with the liberal imperialists. It was when a questioner – a police provocateur – forced me to defend the line of M. Klonsky on Watergate.)

It would be turning Lenin and Leninism upside down, and ignoring the central argument of Lenin’s article here, to imagine that Iskra’s policy of political agitation had support for the liberal opposition (in Russia, 1902) as its principal aim. Quite to the contrary. Its principal aim was to oust the liberal leadership from its position at the head of the struggle against the autocracy.


Who will undertake the political education and the leadership of the working class and its allies? The liberals – or the Marxists? This is the fundamental question Lenin raises, and this goes to the essence of Iskra’s principles of political agitation. This essence is not limited in its validity to Russia in 1902; it is valid and fundamental in any country and in any period where one of the prevalent forms of bourgeois ideology is liberalism (reformism), and where this ideology has an influence within and over the working class.

If the Marxists, in their newspapers, show themselves indifferent to the words and deeds of the liberals and pay little attention to them, the result will be that the liberalsí own presentation of their views and their cause is laid before the working class without challenge. To ignore the conflicts, no matter how trivial, which arouse one form or another of liberal dissatisfaction, means to yield to the liberals the position of political teachers of the working class; and to yield this position means to surrender it to those who uphold not the scientific class point of view of the proletariat, but rather the point of view of the bourgeoisie.

It is precisely the ’class point of view’ that makes it impermissible for a Social-Democrat to remain indifferent to the discontent and the protests of the Stakhoviches,” Lenin emphasizes, (p. 340)

Those who criticize Iskra for its preoccupation with conflicts within the government and with “liberal issues,” he adds,

...show that they are indifferent to liberalism and thus reveal their incomprehension of the basic theses of the Communist Manifesto, the ’Gospel’ of international-Social-Democracy. Let us recall, for instance, the words that the bourgeoisie itself provides material for the political education of the proletariat by its struggle for power, by the conflicts of various strata and groups within it, etc. (p. 340)

And, in fact, in the U.S. today the “conflicts of various strata and groups” within the bourgeoisie (between liberals and conservatives and fascists; within each of these tendencies, etc. etc.) provide an extremely rich material for the political education of the working class, perhaps much richer than in Tsarist Russia. At the same time, “our” liberals, much more so than in Lenin’s time, have at their disposal the means of using this material in their own particular way, i.e. in the bourgeois way, for teaching the proletariat bourgeois political lessons day after day. In fact the liberal newspapers, the liberal tendency in the mass media, the specialized trade union, nationality, cultural and other media, are daily and hourly utilizing the material provided by the conflicts within the bourgeoisie – and every other material – in order to teach the proletariat liberalism, reformism.


All the more urgent and imperative for our conditions, therefore, is Lenin’s warning that ”the tendency of the above-mentioned socialists consciously or unconsciously to restrict the scope and content of political agitation is particularly harmful.” (p. 340)

All the more imperative for our situation, therefore – where the immediate strategic aim is not to achieve bourgeois democracy but to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat – is Lenin’s teaching that:

It is our direct duty to concern ourselves with every liberal question, to determine our Social-Democratic attitude towards it, to help the proletariat to take an active part in its solution and to accomplish the solution in its own, proletarian way. Those who refrain from concerning themselves in this way (whatever their intentions) in actuality leave the liberals in command, place in their hands the political education of the workers, and concede the hegemony of the political struggle to elements which, in the final analysis, are leaders of bourgeois democracy. (p. 341, emphasis added.)

All the more impermissible, therefore, is the Klonsky circle’s suppression of this article of Lenin’s, and all the more revealing is this suppression. The basic lesson of this article is that the restriction of political agitation (for whatever motive) is tantamount to capitulation to the liberals, it means surrender of the political education of the proletariat to the liberals; it means conceding hegemony in the political struggle to the leaders of bourgeois democracy. This point cuts straight to the heart of the “credo” of the Klonsky circle. On point after point in our controversy, the line of the Klonsky circle reveals the identical capitulationist content. Whether hidden under “left” phrasemongering or out in the comparative open of “criticism” papers that you are supposed to unite with, the thinking of the Klonsky circle always comes back to this same defeatist philosophy, this same policy of surrender to the bourgeoisie.

Political agitation for the dictatorship of the proletariat – or leaving the liberals in command. Those are the alternatives. Marxism stands on one side, Klonskyism on the other, of this basic issue.