- Category: Theory
- Created on Friday, 23 July 2010 21:23
- Written by Professor Toad
The following article appeared on the Marxist-Leninist site -- in response to the piece “Marxism is Not a Layer Cake.” The FRSO discussed below is the group associated with the newspaper "Fight Back."
by Professor Toad
First, I would like to clarify one point to avoid confusion. When the article Marxism is Not a Layer Cake was first posted, it was stated that it was a comment on the official Freedom Road Socialist Organization reading list. It has since been clarified that the reading list under discussion is not an official Freedom Road Socialist Organization list, but merely a study guide produced by a person who is a member of FRSO. Similarly, I am not writing this article on behalf of Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The editor of the Marxist-Leninist blog has, of course, had an opportunity to discuss it with me, and I have listened to his input, because he is a respected comrade. I have had some input from certain other comrades as well, in the US and abroad. But this article is solely my own responsibility.
Josh Sykes has asked me to say one thing on his behalf: He would like to extend a sincere thank you to Kasama for its solidarity in connection with the banning of Josh Sykes and several others from Facebook and the closing of the Free Ricardo Palmera Group.
To me, Kasama’s solidarity demonstrates that despite the important differences of principle between us, there is considerable common ground. The internet is not, of course, the real world. But within the confines of the limited importance of the internet, this struggle is important. The victories which have been won to date are meaningful, though, of course, the struggle continues.
Now, to business.
Revisionism and the ElephantAs I read this article, an image came into my mind. The image was of Mike Ely and a few others from Kasama sitting around a very sturdy table discussing the matter, perhaps over coffee or beer. On the table was a very large elephant. At one point Mike Ely referred in passing to “the so-called elephant in this room.” Otherwise the elephant was entirely ignored.
The elephant is, of course, revisionism.
By revisionism, I mean the promulgation of theories which claim to be Marxism but in fact have been stripped of their revolutionary character. Revisionism comes about because of the ideological pressure of the capitalists. Revisionism is a concept with which I am quite sure Mike Ely is very familiar. However, readers of his blog may not have a strong understanding of it.
People wishing to understand revisionism could do no better than to start with Lenin's article, Marxism and Revisionism. You can find it in the anti-revisionist section of the Marxist-Leninist Blog study guide.
Lenin explained the matter thus:
In the early days of Marxism, anti-Marxist socialists were very open about their opposition to Marx and applied arguments which rejected every aspect of Marx's methodology. But as the acceptance of Marxism grew, a change took place: The enemies of Marxism increasingly expressed their opposition to Marxism in subtle and dishonest ways. Rather than rejecting Marxism, they claimed to be simply updating it, making a few minor corrections, or what have you.
One famous "updater" of Marxism was Edward Bernstein. Bernstein supposedly used the Marxist method to explain that capitalism would result eventually in the workers getting the rights they wanted without so much as the need for a trade union.
Another famous revisionist was Karl Kautsky. Kautsky was at one time one of the most highly regarded Marxist theorists. After the Russian Revolution he explained – supposedly from a Marxist perspective – why the Bolsheviks were wrong to seize power, wrong to expropriate the wealthy peasants, wrong to fight the civil war against the capitalists, and wrong to suppress capitalists.
Nikita Khrushchev was another famous revisionist. Khrushchev was the premier of the Soviet Union between 1958 and 1964. Under his leadership, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union taught that peaceful coexistence was the main task of the international communist movement. Obviously, peaceful coexistence and revolution are not compatible.
Harry Haywood, in his article the Degeneration of the CPUSA in the 1950s, talks about revisionists in the Communist Party of the United States. Those revisionists, among other things, edited out of Marxism the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the basically class nature of the state. They did so supposedly because they did not feel they could explain that concept to their neighbors.
What do all of these revisionists have in common? That they take out the particularly revolutionary aspects of Marxism, and turn Marxism into something tame and harmless which is less threateninig to the capitalists.
Revisionism is the Ideological Pushback of the CapitalistsGalileo, Copernicus, Newton, and those who followed them developed a theory by which the motion of the planets was shown to obey certain natural laws. In time it was even shown that the planets themselves had a history and developed according to articulable laws.
Charles Darwin and those who followed him showed that the different types of animal had developed over time as a result of certain identifiable, material causes.
If one were to boil Marxism down to its core principles, one of the four or five last ones remaining would be this: That human ideas and human institutions develop over time according to certain real world causes. That is the simplest statement of dialectical, historical materialism as it applies to the social sciences. In particular we know that the class struggle is an enormous factor in the development of human ideas and institutions.
Marxism is the world outlook of the revolutionary proletariat. Revisionism is Marxism modified to remove its revolutionary content under pressure from the capitalists. This is a historically well-documented phenomenon. But in any case its existence is hardly surprising: It is a natural development of the class struggle.
“There is a well-known saying that if geometrical axioms affected human interests attempts would certainly be made to refute them.”Revisionism is precisely that: An attempt to refute perfectly correct aspects of Marxism because they affect particular human interests, specifically the interests of the capitalists.
The phenomenon of revisionism has close parallels in other sciences. The most obvious ones are in biology. There is no doubt of the fact of the evolution of the various species of life. The mechanism by which it took place is now reasonably well-known, although there is still more work to do. But an enormous number of people — by some counts more than half the U.S. population — refuse to accept evolution. Attempts are constantly being made to have other notions, such as creation science and intelligent design, taught alongside evolution in U.S. schools.
The reason for the widespread disbelief in evolution has very little to do with the way in which evolution is taught. We all know that it is fundamentally an ideological problem. People do not accept evolution not because it has been explained to them in a scholastic or religious way but because it does not fit into their religious worldviews.
Mike Ely points out quite correctly that Marxism was not well-understood in the early Soviet Union. He goes on to suggest that the reason for this failure of understanding was the manner in which it was taught. It is actually rather obvious that the general degree to which Marxism is still rejected is a result of ideology. Marxism is not widely accepted because the entrenched interests of the capitalists fight its acceptance. Teaching styles have little or nothing to do with it.
Revisionism and TankiesIt would be very useful in continuing this discussion to know exactly what elements in the works of Marx and Lenin Mike Ely particularly thinks are dated. Unfortunately, he is not direct enough in his article to tell us. But from the history of his exchanges with FRSO comrades, it appears that one particular Marxist idea with which Mike Ely disagrees is the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The discussions about the dictatorship of the proletariat which Mike Ely has had with FRSO members often take the form of Mike Ely condemning what he calls “tankies.” A tankie, according to Mike Ely, favors using tanks to suppress counter-revolutions, as in the case of Tiananmen Square.
The question of whether or not to use force when necessary to suppress counterrevolutionaries is the question of whether or not there should be a dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship of the proletariat is precisely the Marxist doctrine which says that when the proletariat seizes power it must construct a working-class state which uses force to dismantle capitalist society, suppress counter-revolutionaries, and defend the gains of the revolution.
In Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx explained the dictatorship of the proletariat thus: