Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Amiri Baraka

Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Theory: Its Relation and Application to the Third World and African Americans


First Published: The Black Nation, Vol. 3, No. 1, Summer/Fall 1983.
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.

(The following paper was delivered at a forum held at State University of New York Stony Brook.)

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Karl Marx is honored by those who understand his contributions to human progress because he made the first wholly scientific analysis of capitalism and also put forward a scientific method for destroying it. There were many other attempts before Marx’s to propose an alternative to capitalist society, because although capitalism as it first emerged was progressive in as far as it had to eliminate feudalism and many forms of absolutism, it was not long before it became obvious that capitalism itself was exploitative and oppressive, and finally the major obstruction in the path of human development.

But the earlier proposals for alternative social systems to capitalism were Utopian, nonscientific. With Marx and Frederick Engels’ development of Dialectical and Historical Materialism the first wholly scientific analysis of capitalism and an alternative to it was put forth. Marx’s philosophy was materialism, that what was fundamental and essential in the world was its materiality. That matter is principal and that ideas are a reflection of matter. This was a direct refutation to philosophical idealism which posits just the opposite, that principal is ideas and that the material world is just a reflection of those ideas. In essence this is just a defense of religion.

With his dialectic, Marx had achieved a methodology that could speak of real development in a clear, comprehensive and accurate way. A way which reflected the actual development of nature. And by applying this dialectic to human society, i.e., Historical Materialism, we come to understand that ultimately the most critical and defining aspect of any society is the mode of production, how that society gets its food, clothing and shelter; society’s raison d’etre and its reasons for changing became crystal clear.

It was Marx who showed us how and why primitive communalist society changed to slave societies and how feudalism grew out of slavery and capitalism out of feudalism.

It was Marx who also identified and explained how class society was formed and how the various classes, basically groups of people with the same relationship to the production process, how they formed and how and why ultimately the motive force of history is the struggle between those various classes, i.e., class struggle. In exact reflection of the dialectical process itself.

Marx’s doctrine was drawn from the most advanced theories of English political economy, German philosophy and French socialism. Marx also showed us why the proletariat, the industrial worker, was the most advanced class and the only thoroughly revolutionary class under capitalism.

But one of the most impressive aspects of Marx’s teachings was the way by which he revealed the fundamental secret of capitalism, Surplus Value, which can be defined basically as all the wealth which the workers create but do not get.

Marx was also a staunch and thoroughgoing internationalist, saying about the communists’ role in the Communist Manifesto, “in the national struggles of the proletarians of different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the proletariat independently of all nationality.”

It was also Marx who pointed out that in order for class society, capitalism, to move to socialism, which is a transitory stage on the way to Communism, i.e., classless society, this could only be achieved by going through a stage in which society was. dominated by its working class, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx said that recognition of classes and class struggle was not enough, that a communist was one who also upheld the dictatorship of the proletariat!

Lenin’s contributions

Lenin’s contributions to the treasure house of Marxism are immeasurable. It was Lenin who used Marxism to define and analyze the period of history that followed after Marx’s death. Leninism is the Marxism of the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution.

Marx died before capitalism turned into imperialism. Imperialism is monopoly capitalism, capitalism which has erupted past the boundaries of one country and which now seeks surplus value all over the globe. It is monopoly capitalism, which, based on the combining of industrial capital with the banks, has produced finance capital, which already arisen out of “the concentration of production” in its own country, rapaciously seeks the seizure of raw materials, markets, new areas to invest capital and new spheres of influence all over the world.

Imperialism is also the transformation of the old 19th-century colonial policy in which European colonialism had barely begun to insert itself into Africa to the post-1890’s period when colonialism had seized and dominated nine-tenths of Africa.

Imperialism is the stage at which finance capital has seized and dominated the whole world and indeed the imperialist interests have begun to quarrel (repeatedly) and make war over the redivision of the world, particularly their colonial possessions in the third world (Asia, Africa, Latin America). This was the basic cause of World Wars I and II!

Lenin’s brilliant analysis of this phenomenon is contained in the book Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism. In describing imperialism as capitalism in decay, already parasitic, Lenin goes on to lay out that because of the high degree of monopoly imperialism represents, that it has linked the imperialist trusts and countries and those whom they oppress together into a single “world economy.” A worldwide system in which there was already a rising degree of crisis. Crisis, not only internally as a result of the added burdens imperialism puts upon workers inside the industrial metropoles, but a sharpening and intensification of oppression within the colonial outposts of imperialism. Since imperialism has split the world into two camps, a handful of industrialized exploiter nations and the vast majority of colonized, nationally oppressed and dependent nations must wage national liberation struggles against imperialism in order to free themselves!

In Lenin’s theory of proletarian revolution, therefore, he saw three fundamental contradictions of capitalism turning into imperialism, all of which meant that imperialism was not only moribund or dying capitalism, but itself an inciter of crisis within itself and revolution. These fundamental contradictions were (and remain) the contradiction between labor and capital in the advanced industrial countries, which imperialism so intensifies that it brings the workers of the industrial metropoles to revolutionary positions; the contradiction between the imperialist cartels and interests themselves which eventually leads to imperialist war in order to redivide their spoils, mainly in the third world; and the contradiction between imperialism and the colonial and dependent nations and peoples mainly of the third world (Asia, Africa, Middle East, Latin America). It was because Lenin’s theory of proletarian revolution was correct and indeed all these contradictions could be found in Russia, and Lenin as leader of the most advanced party of the proletariat in that country led the first successful overthrow of capitalism, that a fourth contradiction could be added to the other three, namely the contradiction of imperialism vs. socialism!

One of the most important aspects of Leninism is in how Lenin completely connects the question of revolution in the Western industrial countries with the question of the liberation of the oppressed nations and peoples of the third world. It was Lenin who transformed the so-called national question from a question largely of the oppressed nations of Europe to include the colonial and dependent nations that comprised the great majority of people in the world. Lenin took Marx’s line on the Irish revolution, where he chides the English workers that “no nation can be free as long as it enslaves another nation,” urging the English workers to fight alongside the Irish workers to overthrow the English rulers of Ireland and applies it to the great masses of colonial peoples that imperialism oppresses as well. Lenin made it clear that both the victory of proletarian revolution in the industrialized countries and of the liberation movements in the colonial countries were interconnected struggles against imperialism and that there must be a united front of these movements against imperialism in order for either movement to succeed.

Lenin took the question of Self Determination from out of the narrowly juridical and reformist view that the social democrats had, and still have, and saw it as a part of the question of proletarian revolution. In other words the struggles for democracy in the industrialized countries which bring the workers to revolutionary positions that enable them finally to overthrow monopoly capitalism must be linked up with the essentially revolutionary and democratic struggles of the peoples and nations of the third world for liberation!

The revolutionary nature of the third world struggles for democracy against imperialism was one of the key questions that split the old Second International along with the general question of whether communists should support their fatherlands in an imperialist war. It was consistent that the social chauvinists of the Second International who upheld the imperialists in the first imperialist war should also not see the essentially revolutionary anti-imperialist character of the national liberation struggles of the great majority of the people on the planet! This is why Lenin organized the Third International and left the Second International, a so-called world organization of socialists, to its chauvinism and reformism.

It was Lenin who, in the meetings of the Third International, added to Marx’s classic slogan “Workers of All Countries Unite!” so that, in the spirit of revolutionary struggle against imperialism it became “Workers of All Countries and Oppressed Nations Unite!” Lenin saw the revolutionary potential of the developing national struggles in the third world, saying that these struggles must be measured by their opposition to imperialism. Often such national struggles against imperialism were in fact more militant and revolutionary than many of the self-styled socialists of the Western industrialized countries, many of whom had become opportunists.

Lenin also, in his work, Statistics and Sociology, pointed out that in the United States, the Afro-American people comprised an oppressed nation, since the democracy and equality promised by their participation in the Civil War had been destroyed with the destruction of the Reconstruction. Marx also had long before pointed out the progressive character of the struggle against slavery in the U.S., in his articles for the Herald Tribune which are collected in the book The Civil War In The U.S. Marx had also analyzed the place of black chattel slavery in the building of capitalism, the industrial revolution and world trade. Lenin, carrying his analysis past the period of the destruction of the American Reconstruction and the emergence of monopoly capitalism in the U.S., as the system and the monopoly capitalist/imperialist class as the chief oppressors of the African American people, correctly summed up the new phase of the black struggle as a revolutionary struggle for Self Determination in the same way that the struggles for Self Determination among the oppressed nations and colonies of the third world were.

In fact it was Lenin through the Third International who influenced the then revolutionary Communist Party USA (CPUSA) to take the correct line on the Afro-American national question in 1928, along with the Comintern, in upholding the position put together by a group of American communists upholding the Leninist line on the national question and calling for Self Determination for the Afro-American Nation in the Black-belt South! This is still a correct line and it was held by the CPUSA until just before it became a revisionist party in the ’50’s. The black struggle for democracy and Self Determination is part and parcel of the struggle of the majority of American workers against the U.S. imperialist class. And Self Determination and full democracy for the African American nation can only come with the destruction of the U.S. imperialist class and monopoly capitalism itself.

Because Lenin saw the revolutionary potential of the national liberation movements, it was he who proposed that these movements not be called “bourgeois democratic” movements but national revolutionary movements to emphasize their revolutionary potential. And the fact that after the socialist revolution in the U.S.S.R., the masses of the world had seen the way past capitalism and led by the proletariat these national liberation struggles did not have to stop at capitalist states but could proceed unstopped to socialism.

Mao Zedong

This brilliant thesis of Lenin’s was concretely proved with the victory of the Chinese Revolution led by Mao Zedong. Lenin’s correct revolutionary line first put forward in the work, Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, about the revolutionary potential of the peasantry, was also proved concretely by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution.

The older social democrats, unlike Marx, had only focused on the proletarian revolution that was to be made in the European industrialized countries. Many, like Trotsky, could not even understand the revolutionary relationship of the proletariat in these societies with the peasantry. The failure of the 1905 Russian Revolution must be attributed in great part to this lack of understanding of the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. Lenin’s theses on the revolutionary potential of the peasantry and the national movements in alliance with the proletariat was of such critical importance because the great majority of people in the third world were not only involved with national movements but were non-proletarians, mainly peasants.

Mao Zedong adapted Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of the Chinese Revolution. As Lenin said, “the concrete analysis of concrete conditions.” Mao took Marxism-Leninism “not as a dogma, but a guide to action.” He thereby disproved the social democrats who saw little revolutionary potential in the peasant-dominated country of China, but then even Marx had thought that the first fully executed socialist revolution would be in Germany and not “backward” Russia. But armed with the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin’s great works on the national question, Mao developed Marxism, by making a concrete analysis of Chinese conditions. Understanding that China was a mainly peasant country he could see that the main force of the Chinese revolution must be the peasantry, contrary to what reactionaries like Trotsky or other dogmatists said. And although this massive peasant force was led by its most advanced class, the small but revolutionary class of Chinese workers, Mao Zedong made new contributions to Marxism-Leninism with this living application of the revolutionary science.

Mao also opposed the dogmatists who believed, because of the Russian Revolution, that the revolution must begin in the cities and then proceed out to the countryside. Mao first captured the countryside by means of a largely peasant, but worker-led army, and then proceeded to capture the cities.

Because China was a semi-colonial country, where feudal relations still predominated, the Chinese struggle was seen by many dogmatists as merely a bourgeois struggle and not genuine proletarian revolution. It is obvious that such dogmatists had actually not even fully digested the revolutionary teachings of Comrade Lenin! But Mao had fully absorbed Lenin and had even made fully scientific innovations on Marxist theory. This is why frequently we refer to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought!

One such innovation, particularly applicable to the oppressed nations and peoples of the third world, was the development not only of the party of the working class, which had been brought to perfection by Lenin in the U.S.S.R., but the utilization by this party of two weapons as its principal means of struggle in making the Chinese Revolution: viz. the united front and armed struggle. Mao understood that in a colonial country oppressed by imperialism the greater part of the nation, the majority of its classes, are oppressed to some degree by imperialism, foreign domination. Mao proposed that not only must a proletarian party be developed but that the entire nation, the majority of its classes, would struggle to some extent against foreign domination. But led by the party of the proletariat such a struggle against imperialism would not stop at the stage of bourgeois democracy but would proceed without stopping to socialism!

Mao made it clear that the national liberation struggle of the Chinese people against foreign domination must be led by the Chinese proletariat, because they alone would carry the struggle all the way to the end, not only driving out imperialism, but then setting up a socialist society. A liberation movement led by the petty bourgeoisie or bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation would stop that movement after foreign domination had been ended, but then a capitalist society ruled by a domestic bourgeoisie would be set up and the working people, the majority of the country, would continue to be exploited, but now in a more “advanced’’ way, as in the industrial “democracies” of the West!

The United Front was absolutely necessary so that the entire oppressed nation, all of its classes willing to oppose imperialism, would help drive out foreign domination. But the party of the proletariat and the working masses finally must lead such a revolution, so that it did not stop at bourgeois dictatorship.

Armed struggle was the main form of revolution in China. And this is true with many of the liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. But in too many cases the national liberation movements in the third world have not been consistently led by the proletariat and the revolution has not been carried out to the end, and in many cases, we have seen foreign domination driven out, but now we are confronted with a neocolonialism, in which a domestic bourgeoisie still linked with the old colonial powers continues to oppress the people!

The need for the fundamental Marxist weapons of class analysis and proletarian organization are critical in the national liberation struggles raging all over the third world as well as in the struggle of the African American people here in the U.S. Too often the united front structure that is one basic weapon of national liberation is not led by the proletariat. Often this is because the proletariat is very tiny in many third world countries. This is particularly true in Africa and the Caribbean and for that reason many of the liberation movements have been petty bourgeois or at least with petty bourgeois or bourgeois leadership. It is therefore very significant that in the United States and South Africa there are found two of the largest classes of black workers in the world. This bodes extremely well for the eventual domination of those liberation movements in the USA and South Africa by the black proletariat. In the United States, the Black Liberation Movement is part of the whole struggle of the people to make revolution, the great majority of the black masses are workers and indeed most of the lower strata of the U.S. multinational working class is comprised of oppressed nationalities, Afro Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans. In South Africa, because it is a white settler colony, a national liberation struggle led by the black proletariat could go uninterrupted into socialist revolution, so that the means of production are finally in the hands of the working class as well as its black majority. So that it is no longer enough to say that political power must be in black hands in Africa and the Caribbean, such power must be in the hands of the working class based on a revolutionary alliance of the workers and peasants. It is far too late and there have been far too many betrayals for the masses of black and third world people to continue to fall for the shallow cries of a domestic black or third world bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie for national liberation which turns out to mean Mobutu in “Zaire” or Arap Moi in Kenya or “Blindaga” in Jamaica or Baby Doc in Haiti or the various neocolonial reactionaries in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East or the black world.

The struggles in the third world are still principally against imperialism, because even where neocolonial governments rule, it is essentially, as Amilcar Cabral pointed out, “imperialism ruling through native agents.” It is imperialism that props these neocolonial governments up, and the fundamental strength of imperialism is still in its ability to superexploit the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, condemning its own workers in the industrial metropoles to lower and lower standards of living. In the industrialized West however, too often the would-be revolutionary political parties have been rendered sterile by opportunism. That is, by the so-called revolutionaries settling for short-term gains at the expense of long-range revolutionary goals. The economic basis of this opportunism is the superprofits imperialism has gouged out of the third world through superexploitation which are used to bribe sections of the working class and middle class.

Lenin warned that the struggle against imperialism could not go forward militantly unless it was accompanied by an uncompromising struggle against opportunism. (Chauvinism, Lenin pointed out, was opportunism in its finished form – where the bourgeoisie can use “its” workers against the workers of another nation!) This is why today in the U.S. there is no genuine Marxist-Leninist revolutionary party and this is extremely dangerous at this time with the strong right-wing trend led by Ronald Reagan, especially as the two superpowers, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., pursue the catastrophe of nuclear war.

The importance of spreading revolutionary theory and organizing communist forces throughout the third world and in the Black Liberation Movement in the U.S. should be obvious. No amount of metaphysics or cultural nationalism will free the oppressed and superexploited masses of the third world and the Afro-American nation. Only revolution, led by the most revolutionary class in society, the working class, can bring about the end of national oppression, neocolonialism, racism, Zionism and all forms of reaction, including the oppression of women. In the U.S.A., the principal task of revolutionaries must be party building, the building of a single, genuine Marxist-Leninist revolutionary communist party to smash white racist monopoly capitalism and build socialism under the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. The Black Liberation Movement is one key aspect in making such a revolution. Just as democratic and ultimately proletarian revolution in the third world will help spell the end of imperialism forever.