You Can't Separate Marx and Lenin

In what was  on the whole a very fine article on  what Communist parties and Communists should do to adjust to 21st century realities, Sam Webb suggested that we should begin to call ourselves Marxists as against Marxist-Leninists.  Others(not Sam) have suggested that the word Communist itself be removed from the name of the CPUSA.

I am opposed to both ideas.  First let me say that terms like "revisionist" "opportunist," aka I am a real revolutionary and you aren't have no real meaning for me, except to create conflict for the sake of conflict. 

My objections have to do  with the significance first of all of Lenin's contribution to Marxism and the Communst movement  on what I see  as the more important of the two questons  and second with the use of the word Communist historically in the CPUSA and its significance today.

Lenin provided Marxism with a theory of politics and modern political economy that made it into a global movement.  This theory also served as the basis for the successful socialist revolutions and establilshment of socialist states in the world that we have seen so far.  That does not mean that there are not other approaches possible  to establish socialism, but none so far can on any level compare to  Lenin's achievements.

Lenin did not revise Marxism as I see it but update or "modernize" it.  He made three major contributions to Marxism and the socialist movement which became the basis for Communist parties, whatever those parties called themselves, through the world.

The first of course was the theory of the vanguard party.  Marx had supported the  formation of workers parties for socialism that would ally with and build unions and educate workers in the struggle both for democracy and the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. 

But Lenin's theory called for a party that would do that without factionalism and with a much higher level of involvement and commitment than the faction ridden mass electoral parties already in existence in Western Europe. Democratic centralism as an organizing method would both prevent factionalism and maintain democracy in the party.  The party would in effect be a party of advanced workers and "intellectuals" committed to the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. 

If anything, it would be broader in the groups that it sought to organize and reach than the mass social democratic parties  then in existence.  Where there was perhaps a difference with Marx(and here it was more implicit) was that the revolutionary party would not only organize and educate but coordinate and lead the workers struggle against not only the capitalist class but the capitalist state machine.

I am not here to deny that democratic centralism has not been abused in many places and at many times by oligarichal cliques inside Communist parties.  Nor am I saying that Leninism means  that the revolutionary party will become in effect the new socialist state, constructing socialism from the top as it made the revolution from the bottom.  Our definition of bill of rights socialism explicitly rejects any such policy.  But I am saying that democratic centralism inside the CPUSA and bill of rights socialism are not only necessary but an expression of Marxism-Leninism.

Lenini's second great contribution, related directly to his first, was his theory of the state.  Here, Lenin once more upheld Marx, building upon Marx's long battles with the anarchists and with the social reformists by contending that the workers movement must neither "smash the state"(the anarchist view) and establish non state cooperatives and other forms or as the reformists advocated,  simply through elections and reforms take over the existing state and use it to establish socialism. 

The state was a machine of the capitalist ruling class that the working class would have to overthrow and replace with a new socialist state to advance socialism.  Just as Marx had no blueprint for how the working class would overthrow capitalism, Lenin had no blueprint for how the working class and its revolutionary vanguard party would overthrow the capitalist state machine and replace it with a socialist state.  But his updating of Marxism on these points created a clearer and much sharper framework for advancing socialism.

Lenin's third great contribution to Marxism was his theory of imperialism.  Marx had been critical of the crimes of imperialism in China, India, and most of the world and had written widely on the subject of imperialist abuses and the economic forces behind them following the publication of the Communist Manifesto and the defeats of the revolutions of 1848 to his death in 1883, spending virtually all of that time as a political exile in Britain, the great empire of the world.

But Lenin connected imperialism with the development of  advanced industrial capitalism which in effect exported capital to the non industrial regions, militarized the industrialized countries at the expense  at home of capitalist liberty and demoncracy, and brought about new and large imperialist wars that now brought the peoples of the colonial regions into the struggle against finance/monopoly capitalism (which was the foundation of imperialism) making the struggle of the workers in the industrialized countries to overthrow domestic capitalism and the struggle of the masses in the colonial regions to overthrow foreign capital and its domestic servants closely inter-related and interdependent.  

Of course Lenin and the Bolshevik party he led provided the leadership for the first successful socialist political revolution in history and in the aftermath of that revolution a new International of Marxist parties, most of whom revived the name Communist which Marx had used in the Manifesto, was created and that International called upon those parties who applied for membership to identify themselves with revolutionary principles and polices that were based on Marx's general theory and Lenin's contemporary updating of that theory.

That Lenin in the last few years of his life didn't use the term Marxism-Leninism is certainly true; but the fact that the term was developed in the Stalin period and was use by the Stalin leadership does not in any way discredit it, since Marxism-Leninism was present as both theory and policy  I would contend in the early Comintern and one should remember that the Stalin leadership as it developed moved away from the Comintern and eventually  abolished the Comintern during WWII. 

I don't think that Sam Webb in his article or his thinking rejects or sees as insignificant Lenin's theory of the party, his theory of the state or his theory of imperialism,  I believe that the overwhelming majority of Communists in the U.S. and through the world continue to adhere to thes analyses.  For that reason, dropping Leninism can accomplish nothing positive.  It will only spread conflict and confusion in the ranks of those who are with us or for us and do nothing to contain anti-Communists from attacking us, since the sort of people who routinely villify the CPUSA are the people who see everyone to the left of themselves as socialists and communists.

Changing the name of the Communist party is also a bad idea.  First, many Communist parties are called by different  names in different countries because  of historical reasons, e.g, Workers parties in some Asian countries, parties of labor in some places, the Socialist Unity Party in the former German Democatic Republic, the former Polish United Workers Party in former  socialist Poland, etc, but in the majority of places, Communist parties.

Here, because of Red Scare repression after WWI, it wasnot t until the middle 1920s that the CPUSA, initially two rival parties forced underground by repression, was able to move above ground under its present name.  The CPUSA has throughout its history fought for full legality and rights under its name as it sought to win over workers and farmers to its program and become a mass force. 

 During WWII, Earl Browder sought to dismantle the CPUSA as a Communist party and turn it into  the Communist Political Association(CPA) essentially a society somewhat like Britain's Fabian Society which would seek to advance socialism through education and the involvement  of trade unionists and people in the arts, sciences, and professions. 

Although Browder essentially repudiated Marxism-Leninisn on this and also on his support for alliances with "progressive capitalists" and his timidity in criticizing U.S. imperialism, he kept the word Communist, which for advanced workers and their allies was associated with the gains of the period. 

Browder himself and his policies were of course repudiated.  I am not saying that the word Communist has not been demonized in the U.S. through the cold war and post cold war period in a way that few things have been demonized.  But it should be our role to fight and disprove that demonization instead  of retreating from it or appeasing it in any way. 

In this country, our comrade predecessors fought against Klansmen and FBI agents and Red Squad police and local vigilantes for the right to be called Communist, to belong to a Communist party, and to advance our politics with full civil rights and civil liberties.  Without denying mistakes and abuses that are also part of our history, we should be proud of the name Communistl advance it and continue the struggle to make it legitimate in U.S political life.

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.

Comments

  • Great article, Norman Markowitz.

    It's true, that Marxism-Leninism or Marxist-Leninist is a big mouthful. I don't think that's a good argument for leaving Leninism out. Why can't we say, in describing who we are:

    “We apply the political science developed by Marx, Lenin and other leaders to our country in the 21st century."

    Posted by Beatrice Lumpkin, 04/11/2011 10:41pm (7 years ago)

  • Well said, Norman. Retreat is not the answer. The issue for me however-- is how do we advance to the next stage of struggle within a body of diverse groups?--and what would be the unifying agenda to advance that struggle?--radical reform of capitalism? revolutonary? or a dialectical interconnection of both? It appears in this stage of transnational globilization of government power, negating the soverienty of national states (via "free-trade agreements)-- Marx's phrase, "workers of the world unite," makes it a necessity to unite groups across national lines more than ever--because the very corps exploiting us are expoiting others and the planet world-wide. But how to begin? What would be the common ground to unite the diversity in the struggle? _______Thanks.

    Posted by M., 04/11/2011 11:32am (7 years ago)

  • The RSDLP is actually my theoretical model for the kind of party needed: a social democratic party with a strong socialist trend. What's so confusing about that?

    I put "Marxism" in quotes because I am sure Marx would disown as twaddle most of the writing that is self-styled "Marxist". Plus, as I am sure Marx would agree, the manifest distortions and fantasy parading as "Marxism" makes any claims about a genuinely scientific approach to to society a joke. EVen more specious is the claim of "Marxism - Leninism" to any coherent, systematic or relevancy.

    If we call our selves Communist and Marxist-leninist -- both of which terms require a century of explanation to point out the relevance to the current class struggle -- and can -- with our allies -- put a 1000 candidates in the field in 2012 -- then I will beg 10,000 mea culpas and plead guilty to all charges. But I do not think we can.

    I do not think even 10 percent of the membership will publicly confess, or defend openly, these concepts in the mass movements. First, because such defense is REALLY not pertinent to the current era tasks: which are almost completely democratic in essence; and second, because there is almost zero theoretical clarity on the necessary criticism of those concepts following the collapse of the USSR.

    Both China and Vietnam are ENTIRELY relevant to this discussion: Deng Chou Peng was profoundly motivated by the NEP debate; by the necessity of a mixed economic path through industrialization and well into the era of a new economic order, which, perhaps, we will name socialism, or the first stage of communism, when we get there. On the eve of that challenge we can assign the name of our future to our party.

    btw -- china and vietnam, being in power, did not adopt name changes, but DID adopt policy changes.

    And MY point is not so much about name change either: its about policy: We designate this era as one of primarily democratic struggle by working people and the emergence of non-commodity economic relations in the midst of class struggles over the destiny of our democratic institutions. Once we agree on what we are ABOUT -- the name choices are easy.



    John

    Posted by John Case, 04/10/2011 9:10am (7 years ago)

  • With all do respect to John Case, and I respect the contributions that he has made I really don't grasp his points so much. Communists have built broad united fronts, even national front against fascism which included conservative forces(including in some circumsntances monarchists) without rejecting Marxism-Leninism as its world-view. Also, Communists have "dropped" the name Communist under conditions where the party was outlawed or repression was such that the use of the name was counter-productive.
    Most of the rest frankly doesn't make much sense to me. Putting "Marxism" in quotes, talking about a party which which accepts various tendencies without endorsing one or another. That seems to me more like the Democrats, not even the old British Labor Party when it was committed to a socialist program.
    As for the comments on the New Economic Policy (which was a stopgap, and seen that way by Lenin and most Bolsheviks, not a mixed economy that would be socialism) I could spend a lot time on that, but what is happening in China, Vietnam, et al, has little to do with what we are dealing with here. We have not had a socialist political revolution. We also have not had a mass labor party, much less a mass Communist or socialist party.
    If I saw multi-tendency mass progressive politics as an end in itself, I would join a group like Democratic Socialists of America(DSA) I will work with DSEr's and many others from a wide variety of political tendencies but I don't join their parties or groups and a don't see any value in making the CPUSA an umbrella group for a wide variety of tendencies.
    Finally, John, there is much that we can learn from the faults of the Soviet experience, including avoiding the repressive policies of the Stalin leadership and, much more to the point today, avoiding the repudiation of Marxism-Leninism combined with what I can only callbourgeois liberal wishful thinking that set the stage for the the Soveit's downfall.



    Posted by norman markowitz, 04/09/2011 3:20pm (7 years ago)

  • Excellent article by Comrade Markowitz! Principle and honesty will always triumph over opportunism. Our party and our movement have much to be proud of. As the market system collapses and the extreme right push our class to more desperate conditions, Marxism-Leninism has never been more vital.

    I can recall our party tableing and signing up new people by the score back in the '80s. Opening the doors to easy party membership was quite controversial at the time but many were eager to sign up to the Communist Party. I would suspect, given the economic realities that this would be even more true today. Of course, we would have to follow up with stronger organization and education but we are already doing some of that.

    Now is not the time for opportunism and backpedaling. Now is the time to be out in the streets and present in the life and death struggles our class is facing as Communists. Now is the time for Communist Plus leadership -- our class needs us.

    Posted by Al M, 04/09/2011 9:50am (7 years ago)

  • All these questions --- party name, the best short description of its ideology, its attitude toward the latter day merits of Karl marx and/or V.I.Lenin ---should be answered in the context of our political responsibilities in this time: as a force focused on moving the broad interests of working people forward, and even more immediate: assisting the defense against the loss of democratic rights in the right wing backlash against government anti-recession reforms.

    In the abstract, there is no answer any more valid than any other. But in the context that says: a broader working class left united on a genuinely democratic, pro-peace reform agenda can play a key role in turning the movements back on the offensive -- in that context -- names should suit the mission!!! In the working class movement we don't have deep pockets with which to waste time on distractions from the main events and clear communication about them. These events -- health, employment, industrial policy, financial system, education, and tax reforms, worker empowerment and non-interventionist foreign policy --they are the minimum demand categories which our "ideology" must help address and solve. But I can't imagine anyone seriously suggesting unity on such a program requires one to be either "a Marxist", a "Marxist-Leninist", or a "communist".

    The party our country needs welcomes the contributions of "Marxists,", etc but should not directly or indirectly sanction any trend compatible with its minimum program, nor explicitly or implicitly endorse by name only one tendency.

    Since the collapse of the USSR, and the big step backward -- I think it was always, really, FORWARD --- by both China and Vietnam toward NEP thinking, we have to grant the underlying class forces and their interests license to rename themselves, as they often do in order to free themselves from distortions and abstractions of the past.

    Neither Karl Marx nor V. I Lenin would have the slightest fear of name changes made to adapt to the struggle - doing even the least harm to the emergence of the truth about real social relations.

    john

    Posted by John Case, 04/08/2011 1:14pm (7 years ago)

  • The present writer is not surprised at this excellent article by Norman Markowitz.
    Marx,Lenin and Du Bois, all prolific Communists,were consistently decades,in instances centuries, ahead of their time. They will continue to be controversial,debated,misrepresented, philosophers and especially activists, for years to come.
    Working class activists and intellectuals of our Party,the CPUSA,like Henry Winston,and Vijay Prashad have correctly compared the African American Du Bois to the Russian,V.I. Lenin.
    It is very fascinating to explore and prove this comparison.
    Not far in long history, after the first notorious"Red Scare" in the U.S., in 1926, Du Bois's statement"...I am a Bolshevik."rings clear. Du Bois's efforts to unite Africans,Asians,Europeans,Islanders of the East and West,North and South,and especially the South and North in the U.S.,since his teenage days,summons up the names of Marx/Engels and Lenin. The work Du Bois did at Marx's Alma mater in Berlin in economics put him on par with Lenin's Russians and Negroes-the widely known article wedding the struggles of the nascent international working class in far away lands.
    Today,as we seek to unify the struggles of Egypt,the U.S.,Mexico,Canada,France,Haiti,Columbia,Cuba,Jefferson City and Madison,in this binary age,let us remember Du Bois's time and event tested statement of 1906,presaging both his 1926 statement above and the homage paid"Big Grand Daddy",(borrowing from John Oliver Killens),at the 1963 March on Washington,the year of his death-made in his Address to the Country of the Niagara Movement,the forerunner of the present NAACP-"The morning breaks over the hills. Courage brothers! The battle for humanity is not lost or losing. The Slav is rising in his might, the yellow minions are testing their liberty, the Black Africans are writhing toward the light, and everywhere the laborer is opening the gates of opportunity and peace."
    The peace of democracy,socialism and communism,stated by Marx/Engels and Lenin, echoed by Du Bois, prompts us to write-You can't separate Marx and Lenin-nor W.E.B. Du Bois.

    Posted by peaceapplause, 04/08/2011 11:18am (7 years ago)

  • Excellent analysis and article

    Posted by Harvey Smith, Marxist Leninist, 04/08/2011 9:08am (7 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments