Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

Revisionism bows to ’practicality’

First Published: The Guardian, May 19, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

It is characteristic of those who attempt to revise Marxism-Leninism that they do so in the name of “practicality.” Whether they are revisionists who claim that “the dictatorship of the proletariat” or Lenin’s thesis on imperialism no longer corresponds to the real world, or neo-social democrats who are constantly clamoring for “new approaches” and an end to “sterile and dogmatic formulations,” the theme is always the same.

The fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism, they say, are “practical.” And it must be recognized that these pragmatists are invariably abetted in their dolorous enterprise by all manner of dogmatists and pseudo-leftists who insist on worshipping at the tomb of Lenin while making a mockery of the great Bolshevik’s mastery of precisely the practical basis for revolutionary theory.

Every fundamental principle of scientific socialism–without exception–is based on practical considerations. All of these principles flow out of the practicalities of accomplishing a most concrete task–the making of a revolution that will overthrow capitalism and bring into being a society based on socialist relations of production.

The communists do not continue to uphold the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat because both Marx and Lenin affirmed it. Marx and Lenin propounded their thesis on proletarian dictatorship because they proved (not merely by logic but by concrete experience and demonstration) that this was the indispensable political tool which the working class was obliged to grasp if its revolution was to succeed in a practical sense.

The principle of proletarian dictatorship itself flows out of the understanding that the key strategic task of the working class in the revolutionary process is the seizure of state power. Obvious? Far from it. For every revolutionary who truly grasps that concept, there are a dozen revisionists or “socialist-minded” individuals who believe that the strategic task may be anything from developing the “socialist consciousness” of the masses to the seizure of factories by bands of armed workers, with a score of Utopian fantasies in between.

But for those who see that the struggle for state power is the decisive struggle, another practical question immediately imposes itself.


How can state power be seized by the working class if the proletariat does not smash the military and police power of the existing bourgeois state? At this point, some will simply shrug their shoulders and say that since such a task–in the U.S. at least–is a self-evident absurdity, there is no more to be said on the subject. We had better make do with reforming this capitalist society as best we can while cherishing our socialist principles as unrealizable ideals.

Certainly the task is formidable. All the more reason then for approaching it in a practical way. Clearly there is only one force powerful enough to defeat the armed apparatus of the bourgeois state machinery –the mass armed struggle of the people. Does this mean that armed struggle is the only form of struggle? Of course not. Nor is it the immediate form of struggle either– least of all in the fashion of small-group urban guerrilla “exemplary” actions.

But those who do not recognize the inevitability of armed struggle in the transition from capitalism to socialism–and therefore the inescapable obligation to prepare for that stage of the struggle–cannot be entrusted with the leadership of the revolutionary struggle no matter how large the letters (or brightly red the paint) in the word ”communist” they may proclaim–or how virtuous their repugnance for violence. They cannot lead–not because they fail to follow Lenin, which they do–but because they fail on the eminently practical question of what will be required to make a revolution.

Now the revisionists try to find every conceivable device to hide behind when it comes to this critical question. Sometimes they argue that “the view that a revolution is impossible without violence is strictly contrary to Marxist theory,” seizing upon the fact that Marx, in the 1870s, conceded that there was a slim possibility for a “peaceful” transition to socialism in certain countries which had not yet developed a full-scale bureaucratic state armed apparatus.

Today they argue that the “present world balance of forces” makes the possibility of a peaceful transition even more likely, although why the decline of this ruling class should make it any less desperate than previously collapsing ruling classes is a proposition far easier to assert than demonstrate.


Then there is the bet-hedging argument which is best exemplified by the CPUSA: “We advocate social change by peaceful means, through political institutions and people’s organizations within the American constitutional framework.” But then the CPUSA hastens to add its disclaimer: “The people must be prepared to meet any eventuality. While we seek a peaceful path, as preferable to a violent one, choice may prove to be blocked by monopolist reaction. Socialism must be sought, therefore, by whatever means circumstances may impose.”

With such typical rhetorical charlatanry does revisionism hope to get off the hook when it is charged with betraying Marxism-Leninism. But such ideological wriggling will not do. The important thing is not what path the working class may desire, but what path it is most likely (I say “most likely” rather than inevitable as a concession to take into account remote possibilities) the working class will have to travel. The task of the revolutionaries is not to engage in fantasies of the way they would like to see history develop, but to prepare themselves and the toiling masses for the overwhelming probability that it will come to an armed fight. In fact, it is only by preparing the working class for armed struggle that the likelihood of that eventuality is at all reduced.


Adherence to the concept of mass armed struggle, therefore, is neither a test of personal courage nor the upholding of an abstract principle. It is, first and last, just like the dictatorship of the proletariat, a practical question.

Naturally, in arguing that these fundamental revolutionary propositions are practical questions, I do not mean that they can be solved in merely a practical, common sense fashion. The role of revolutionary theory is to sum up previous experience, to penetrate the curtain of superficial fact with which the bourgeoisie surrounds social phenomena and uncover the core of reality beneath.

This, too, is a practical task. And its execution–not just the development and propagation of revolutionary theory, but its concrete application to the practical struggle–cannot be left to the spontaneous enterprises of revolutionary intellectuals.

Developing theory, raising the ideological level of the working-class cadres, providing practical, organized, disciplined leadership to the class struggle–this is yet another practical task. A revolutionary party, therefore, is an indispensable practical tool which the working class must have.

The particular character of that party–its form of organization, theoretical foundations, internal procedures and other such questions–is itself shaped by the nature of the task it confronts. This will be the subject of the next article in this series.