Paul Mattick

Leninism or Marxism? Introduction


Published: in International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no.5, February 1935, pp 1-5.
Source: Antonie Pannekoek Archives
Transcribed: by Graham Dyer

“Sensitive souls will again lament,” wrote Rosa Luxemburg at the end of her quarrel with the pseudo-Marxists of the Second International, “that Marxists wrangle among themselves, and that approved ‘authorities’ are combated. But Marxism is not a handful of individuals who confer upon each other the right of ‘expert judgment’ and before whom the great mass of believers is expected to die in a state of blind confidence. Marxism is a revolutionary view of the world which must constantly strive for new insights, which eschews nothing so much as the holding on to forms which have lost their validity, and which best preserves its vital strength in occasional clashes of self-criticism”.

These sentiments of Rosa Luxemburg, written in jail during the World War, deserve to be repeated today louder than ever. The cry for unity which is now so much in favor, and which, after the frightful defeats of the international proletariat, serves merely to veil the fact that with the present labor organizations the forming of a genuine proletarian class front is impossible, must be answered by the revolutionary workers with unsparing criticism. The old, outlived labor movement excludes any real united front, which is possible only upon the basis of the genuine class struggle and not upon that of organizations. The unity of the dead form is the death of the fighting spirit of the working class. The proper concern is rather with breaking up the organizations which have become a fetter upon the class struggle, in order to make the working class fit for struggle. And what today must be broken up are not only the wretched remains of the dilapidated organizations of the Second International and of the trade union movement, but also the organizations of the “heirs” of the reformist movement, the Third International and its various ‘right’ and ‘left’ offshoots.

Scarcely had the Russian Revolution put an end to the “expert” judgment of the Second International in the matter of class betrayal and murder of workers, when the new “authorities” of the new International were in their turn destroying the first beginnings of a genuine revolutionary movement, which found its new form of organization in the workers’ councils. The ‘official’ labor movement has never been more contemptible, more treasonable, more nauseous than it is today. The neglect on the part of the international proletariat to make a violent end of the old labor movement has been paid for with the blood of its best fighters. The brazenness of the “owners” of the “labor organizations” lived down their betrayal of the working class during the World War, lived down the slaughter of the revolutionary movement of Central Europe after the War, lived down apparently also the defeats suffered at the hands of Fascism in Italy, Germany and Austria, only in order to make a new attempt to continue the treacherous business and prolong its parasitical existence at the expense of the workers. Though the organizations of both the Internationals are politically done for, they nevertheless still persist as traditions in the minds of the workers and poison the first attempts at the forming of genuine fighting instruments. They must further be shattered even as a tradition, and within the scope of this necessity lies also the destruction of the Lenin legend so artificially built up.

The history of the Leninist, pseudo-communist parties of the Third International is the history of uninterrupted inner crises. Their development could really take no other course; for the whole ideological and tactical baggage of the Third International is a mixture of social democratic traditions and so-called ‘experiences’ of the Bolshevist Party - combined with the needs of Russian national policy (directed toward making Russia one of the Great Powers), which determine the political line of that International. Yet one of the elementary truths of the materialist dialectic is that the methods and means of struggle which are proper to a given period and to a determinate place prove inept when transferred to another period and to other localities and relations. For this reason, the tactic of the Third International did not, and does not, meet the needs of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat; and still less in harmony with this struggle is Russian domestic politics.

The defiling of Marxism, from opportunistic considerations, at the hands of Lenin’s international, is no less extensive than that which it has suffered through the Second International. Neither of them has any connection with revolutionary Marxism. The un-Marxist character of Lenin’s thought, for example, may be glimpsed in the fact, that misled by the ideological backwardness of the Russian workers while at the same time accepting the mechanistic conceptions of Plechanoff and Kautsky, he came to the philosophical conclusion that the working class will never be capable of developing a revolutionary class-consciousness but that such consciousness must be ‘imposed’ on the masses by the revolutionary party, which gets its ideas from the intellectuals. In his pamphlet, What's To Be Done, this view is given the clearest possible expression, and the upshot is that without a party, and, here again, a sharply centralized and a strictly disciplined party, a revolutionary movement is - possible, no doubt, but can in no case be a successful one. His principle of organization and revolution is of a disarming simplicity; the objective situation creates revolutionary ferments, which it is the duty of the party to exploit.

The Party is the most important factor in the process of overthrow. The quality of the Party, of the central committee, of the leaders, of the slogans, the proper turns at the proper moment - on these alone depends, in the last instance, the weal and woe of the revolutionary movement. Hence the forming of professional revolutionists and the demand for fanatic discipline in carrying out the party decisions, without regard for the fact that in this way history again becomes the “work of great men”. The role of spontaneity in the historical development was misunderstood and underrated; it was of importance only in so far as it could be influenced by the Party. The workers’ councils (soviets) arising spontaneously out of the masses themselves were of value only insofar as the Party was able to control them. The Party itself was the beginning and the end of the Revolution.

Such a position is idealistic, mechanistic, one-sided, and certainly not Marxist. To Marx, revolutionary consciousness occurs not only as ideology, but the proletariat as such, without regard to ideological factors, is the actualization of revolutionary consciousness. The Party to Marx, is welcome and a matter of course, but not unconditionally necessary; quite apart from the further consideration that revolutionary consciousness can also manifest itself in other than the party forms. Even without the existence of a Party, without a central committee, and without a Lenin, the revolution must finally come about, since it receives its strongest nourishment from the increasing social forces of production and not merely from the productive relations. The ideology corresponds to the social relations, but the driving forces of the revolution lie deeper; they are identical with the proletariat, as the strongest force of production. Class consciousness, to Marx, is not merely the revolutionary ideology crystallized in the Party, but the truly practical class struggle, through the growth of which (not the growth of the Party) the revolutionary movement is necessarily brought to a successful issue. To Marx, there is no separation between workers and Party; the existence of the Party is merely an expression of the fact that only minorities can do consciously what the masses themselves are compelled unconsciously to do. Even without a knowledge of the dialectical laws, the genuine movement remains dialectical. The minority is a part (though not the decisive part) of the revolutionary process; it does not produce the process but is produced by it. For Lenin, however, that minority is identified with the revolution itself.

The Leninist conception contradicts all historical experience as well as all theoretical considerations, and yet it is generally accepted today in the labor movement. The reason for this however consists merely in the fact that its untenability has been very largely obscured through the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia. The traditional enthusiasm for the Russian Revolution is still so strong that the countless defeats which the international proletariat has suffered through the agency of this same Party has, to be sure, shattered the confidence reposed in Lenin’s epigones but not in his principles. Even those parties which take a position outside the bolshevist International, such as the Trotsky group or the American Workers’ Party, hold fast to the principles of this International, without considering that by so doing they convert their whole opposition into one which is purely tactical and hence impossible.

Let anyone compare the programs of these opposition groups with those of the bolsheviks. He will see at once that these new organizations merely seek to restore what has already landed on the junk pile of history. All these formations are haunted by the ghost of Lenin who carried to its logical conclusion what had developed in the Second International; that is, the complete surrender of the working masses to the private needs of the professional bureaucracy in the organizations. “Back to Lenin” as people are so fond of shouting today, means to repeat the building up of labor organizations which of necessity, by reason of their very structure, must become obstacles to the revolutionary movement.

In the current debates on questions of organization of the proletarian revolution, it is significant that they are conducted upon a level far beneath that of 1916 - in fact, as will be clear from the work of Rosa Luxemburg herewith presented, far beneath the 1904 level. Just let us compare, for example, the political conclusions drawn by Karl Liebknecht from the treason of the Second International with those of the neo-bolshevist movements of 1934, and it becomes clear at once that these latter have forgotten everything and learned nothing. “The interest of the professional bureaucracy within the labor movement,” writes Karl Liebknecht, (Nachlass written 1916 in the house of detention) “aims at nothing so much as the avoidance of any serious discussion, any decisive conflict. It is directed toward official relations, toward the continuance of a labor movement which goes along at an even pace, one which is well tolerated and even looked upon with favor by the ruling classes. The movement must never endanger the ‘organizations’ and the positions of the bureaucrats. To them, the organization is an end in itself, not a means to the revolutionary end. The struggle of the organizations among themselves, that is, of the source of existence of the professional leaders, for the purpose of winning members, is the one end for which they can be had for struggles at all - struggles within local limits, to which they give their consent reluctantly at the insistence of the masses. They are not revolutionists, but reformists at most; they are completely “above the battle” - a paradoxically parasitic element attached to the capitalistic social order.

“That is the fatal circle in which these organizations move - the great centralized affairs provided with functionaries living on a fixed salary and, considering their previous class level, a very good salary. In this professional bureaucracy they not only produce an element which is absolutely hostile to the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, but convert that element into their leaders with full powers, who easily become their tyrants. Meanwhile the mental and moral independence, the will, the initiative, the personal action of the masses is suppressed or quite eliminated. To this professional bureaucracy also belong the salaried parliamentarians.

“There is only one remedy at hand for this evil: removal of the salaried bureaucracy, or its elimination from the forming of all resolutions and limiting its functions to technical assistance. To which may be added: no reelection of any official after a certain tenure, a measure which would serve at the same time to increase the number of proletarians familiar with organisational and technical matters; possibility of recall at any time during the term of office; restriction of the competency of authorities; decentralization; vote of all members on important questions. In the election of officials, the decisive weight must be laid upon their having stood the test of decided, militant, revolutionary action, of revolutionary fighting spirit, of unreserved self-sacrifice inclusive of staking their whole existence for the cause. The training of the masses and of each individual for mental and moral independence, for skepticism regarding authority, for decided self-initiative, for readiness and capacity for free action, forms the only sure foundation for the development of a labor movement equal to its historic task, as well as the most essential presupposition for the eradication of bureaucratic dangers.”

That was in 1916. A little later, Liebknecht and Luxemburg, and, with them, all true revolutionists saw with aversion that with the consolidation of party rule in Russia, with the degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the bolshevist bosses, the real content of the revolution of 1917 was again dissipated. With the putting down of the German revolutionary movement, with the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, everything which had already been won by revolutionary criticism was lost again in the false enthusiasm for the Russian bogus socialism. We now have to start again from the beginning.

The collapse of the Third International was first required in order to bring about a real decision in the theoretical struggle which took place between Lenin and Luxemburg thirty years ago. History has decided in favor of Rosa Luxemburg. In laying her criticism of the opportunistic principles of Lenin before the proletariat again today, we are conscious of the fact that her argument might be considerably extended, that her standpoint was not a final one, that her position was still influenced (and necessarily so) by the Social Democracy. But regardless of the extent to which her criticism can no longer be regarded as having more than a historic interest, what she had to say against the Leninist form of organization is more to the point today than when it was written. The need for destroying the Lenin legend, as a prerequisite for a complete reorientation of the labor movement, restores to the work of Rosa Luxemburg a contemporary value. This pamphlet will be followed by others in which the question will be taken up at the point where Rosa Luxemburg was obliged to drop it when her life was snuffed out by the capitalistic gunmen of the Social Democracy.



Last updated on: 6.15.2018