‘Marxism and Revisionism’ (1908) by Vladimir Lenin from The Communist. Vol. 12 No. 3. March, 1933.

War to the Palaces!! Peace to the Khrshtite (huts). Yerevan, Armenia. 1924.

Written by Lenin in 1908 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Marx’s death for a collection, ‘ In Memory of Karl Marx,’ which was immediately suppressed by Tsarist authorities. Lenin wrote a great number of articles attacking the revisionism of Marx that became increasingly predominate in the movement after Engels’ 1895 death, however this essay serves well as an introduction and summary of Lenin’s arguments with the Revisionists up to that time.

‘Marxism and Revisionism’ (1908) by Vladimir Lenin from The Communist. Vol. 12 No. 3. March, 1933.

ACCORDING to a well-known saying, geometric axioms would certainly have been refuted if they were to touch upon the interests of men. Theories of natural science, which conflicted with the old prejudices of theology, have caused and continue to cause the most violent battles. It is, therefore, no wonder that the teachings of Marx, which serve directly for the enlightenment and organization of the most progressive class in contemporary society; which point out the tasks of that class, and prove the inevitable replacement of the old order of society by a new one as a result of economic development—it is, therefore, no wonder that these teachings had to take by battle every step on their path of life.

Bourgeois science and philosophy, as taught by the official professors to stultify the growing youth of the propertied classes and to instigate it against foreign and domestic enemies, would not even hear about Marxism, declaring it refuted and destroyed. Both, young scientists, who build their careers on the refutation of Socialism, and senile elders, who guard the covenants of all kinds of obsolete “systems,” attack Marx with equal zeal. The growth of Marxism, the spreading and strengthening of its ideas among the working class inevitably cause the repetition and the sharpening of these bourgeois sallies against Marxism. After every “annihilation” by official science, Marxism becomes stronger, hardened and more virile.

‘Lenin’s predecessors: What did Lenin take from them?’ Military printing house of the Red Army, 1925.’

But even among the teachings connected with the struggles of the working class, and spread primarily among the proletariat, Marxism did not strengthen its position all at once. The first halt century of its existence (from the forties of the 19th century) Marxism struggled against theories radically hostile to it. In the first half of the forties Marx and Engels settled their score with the Young Hegelians, who were the exponents of philosophical idealism. Towards the end of the forties begins the struggle in the sphere of economic doctrines—against Proudhonism. The fifties witness the conclusion of these struggles: the critique of parties and of teachings which manifested themselves in the stormy year of 1848. In the sixties the struggle is transplanted from the realm of general theory into a sphere much closer to the movement of the working class: the expulsion of Bakuninism from the International. The Proudhonist Muelberger occupies the limelight in Germany for a short time at the beginning of the seventies and the positivist Duehring at their end. But the influence upon the proletariat of both is already negligible. Marxism is already winning a positive victory over all other ideologies of the working class movement.

‘Ilyich’s 3 testaments – study, study, study – let’s do it! Grab a book!’ Primorsky provincial commission for holding the All-Russian Book Day, Vladivostok, 1925.’

Basically, this victory was consolidated towards the nineties of the last century. Even in the Latin countries, where the traditions of Proudhonism remained the longest, the workers were building their programs and tactics of the basis of Marxism. The renewed international organization of the proletarian movement, which manifested itself in periodical international congresses, based itself in all its essentials at once and almost without struggle on the ground of Marxism. But after Marxism had dislodged all the diverse teachings hostile to it, the tendencies expressed in these teachings began to search for new outlets. The forms of, and the reasons for the struggle, have changed, but the struggle itself continued. The second half century of the existence of Marxism (the nineties of the last century) began with the struggle within Marxism against the tendencies inimical to it.

Bernstein, the former orthodox Marxist, when he came out noisily with the most complete formulation of corrections to Marx, of reexamination of Marx, named this tendency revisionism. Even in Russia, where non-Marxian Socialism remained the longest, due to the backward economic state of the country, and due to the predominance of peasantry oppressed by the remnants of slavery, it grows into revisionism under our very eyes. Both in the agrarian problem (the program of land municipalization) and in the general questions of program and tactics, our social-populists are substituting more and more “corrections” to Marx in place of the old dying out remnants of their system, which is radically hostile to Marxism.

Pre-Marxian Socialism is smashed. It continues the struggle not on its own ground any longer, but on the general ground of Marxism, as revisionism. Let us analyze the ideological contents of revisionism.

‘What did Petersburg give to Lenin and what did it give to Petersburg,’ Military printing house of the Red Army, 1925.’

In the realm of philosophy revisionism followed at the tail of bourgeois professional “science.” ‘The professors were going “back to Kant” and the revisionists were trailing behind the neo-Kantians. The professors were repeating the rehashed priestly trivialities against philosophical materialism and the revisionists not to be outdone, mumbled with a condescending smile (word for word from the latest handbook) that materialism was long since “refuted.” The professors were treating Hegel like a “dead dog,” preaching their own brand of idealism, a thousand times more petty and trivial than Hegel’s, and were disdainfully shrugging their shoulders about dialectics—and the revisionists trailed after them into the mire of the philosophical debasing of science and the substitution of the “simple” (and peaceful) “evolution” for the “intricate” (and revolutionary) dialectics. The professors have earned their official wages by adjusting their idealistic and “critical” systems to the ruling philosophy of the middle ages (i.e. to theology)—and the revisionists were playing into their hands by endeavoring to make religion a “private affair” not with regards to the contemporary State but with regards to the Party of the most advanced class in society.

There is no need to speak of the class significance of all these “corrections” to Marx—this is evident on the face of it. It is only necessary to point to Plekhanov—the only Marxist in the ranks of the international social democracy, who gave a critique from the standpoint of consistent dialectic materialism, of all the unbelievable platitudes of the revisionists. This must be strongly emphasized, particularly in view of the fact that at present erroneous attempts are being made to put through the old and reactionary philosophical rubbish under the guise of Plekhanov’s critique of tactical opportunism. (1)

‘Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,’ Klucis, 1927.

Turning to the subject of political economy, we must state first of all that in this domain the “corrections” of the revisionists are much more detailed and many-sided. The public was to be influenced by means of “new data of economic development.” The revisionists said that there is no concentration and supplanting of small producers by large ones in agriculture and that in trade and industry this process is a very slow one. They said that crises have become rarer and weaker and that the cartels and trusts will probably give an opportunity to capital to eliminate them altogether. They said that the “theory of the collapse” of capitalism is groundless due to the tendency of weakening of class contradictions. Finally, they said that it would not be amiss to correct Marx’ theory of value according to Boehm-Baewerk.

The struggle with the revisionists on these questions produced an enlivening of the theoretical ideas of international Socialism no less fruitful than the polemic of Engels with Duehring twenty years earlier. Facts and figures were used to defeat the arguments of the revisionists. It was proven that the revisionists had systematically been showing the contemporary petty production in rosy colors. The fact of the technical and commercial superiority of large scale production over small scale production, not only in industry but in agriculture, too, is substantiated by irrefutable data. But commodity production is much less developed in agriculture, and the contemporary statisticians and economists know little how to point to the special branches (and at times even operations) of agriculture, which express the progressive involving of agriculture in the exchange process of world economy.

Petty production is able to retain its position on the ruins of natural economy only thanks to a tremendous curtailment of feeding, thanks to a chronic starvation, the lengthening of the working day, worsening of the quality of livestock and its care, in a word, thanks to the same means by which handicraft production was able to retain its position in the face of the onslaught of capitalist manufacture. Every step forward in science and technology tears down inevitably and pitilessly the bases of petty production in capitalist society. The task of Socialist economy is to examine this process in all its forms, which are at times complicated and involved; to prove to the petty producer the impossibility of survival under capitalism; to show the helpless position of the peasant economy under capitalism and the necessity of the peasant’s acquiring the proletarian point of view. In regard to this question the revisionists were sinning against the scientific approach by the shallow generalization of a few facts taken at random and without connection with the general structure of capitalism. They were sinning against the political approach, insofar that they inevitably called the peasant and directed him to the viewpoint of the owner (i.e. the bourgeoisie) instead of directing him towards the viewpoint of the revolutionary proletariat.

‘Lenin is the banner. Leninism is a weapon. The way is world revolution.’ Baku worker”, 1925.’

As regards the theory of crises and the theory of the collapse of capitalism, the revisionists were faring much worse. Only the most shortsighted people could think for a moment about changing the foundation of the teachings of Marx under the influence of a few years of industrial revival and prosperity. The reality of a crisis having set in after prosperity, proved to the revisionists very quickly that the time of crises had not yet passed. The forms, the succession and the picture of these crises have changed, but the crises themselves remained an inevitable component part of the capitalist system. Cartels and trusts, uniting production, have at the same time increased the anarchy of production under our very eyes; have increased the insecurity of the proletariat and the oppression of capital, thus sharpening class contradictions to a degree unheard of heretofore. That capitalism is headed for a crash both in the sense of individual political and economic crises, as well as in the sense of the complete breakdown of the whole capitalist order, has been revealed precisely by the new gigantic trusts with particular clarity and on a broad scale. As a result of the recent financial crisis in America, and of the terrific increase of unemployment all over Europe—let alone the approaching industrial crisis to which many signs are pointing—the “theories” of the revisionists have been for- gotten if not by all, at least by many of their own numbers. It is, however, necessary not to forget the lessons which this intellectual vacillation has given to the working class.

It is necessary to state that in regard to Boehm-Baewerk’s theory of value the revisionists have given absolutely nothing except nebulous allusions and sighs. They have, therefore, left no traces in the development of scientific thought.

‘Worker! Worker! Your place is in the ranks of the Communist Party!’ Kursk: Volodarsky Printing House, 1924.

In the realm of politics, revisionism really tried to revise the basis of Marxism, namely the teaching about the class struggle. We were told that political freedom, democracy and universal suffrage are destroying the ground for class struggle and prove incorrect the old postulate of the Communist Manifesto that workingmen have no fatherland. Once the “will of the majority” is ruling, as in democracy, there is no need any longer to consider the State as an organ of class rule, nor is there any reason for not entering into alliances with the progressive social-reformist bourgeoisie against reactionaries.

Undoubtedly these arguments of the revisionists were forming a rather harmonious system of opinion, namely the old and well-known liberal bourgeois opinions. The liberals have always claimed that bourgeois parliamentarism destroys classes and class divisions once it gives night of participation in the affairs of the State, to all citizens without any distinction. The whole history of Europe during the second half of the 19th century, and the whole history of the Russian revolution at the beginning of the 20th century, proves clearly the absurdity of these opinions. Economic differentiations are not weakened, but on the contrary, are strengthened and sharpened under the freedom of “democratic” capitalism. Parliamentarism does not remove, but exposes the essence of the democratic bourgeois republics as organs of class oppression. While parliamentarism helps in the education and organization of the broader masses of population than those which heretofore actively participated in political events, it does not, however, tend to remove crises and political revolutions but, on the contrary, tends to the greatest sharpening of civil war during such revolutions. Events in Paris in the Spring of 1871, and in Russia in the Winter of 1905, have shown clearly the inevitability of such a sharpening. Without a moment’s hesitation, the French bourgeoisie struck a bargain with its national enemy, with a foreign army, which invaded and partitioned its fatherland, in order to suppress the proletarian movement. He who does not understand the inevitable inner dialectics of parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy, which now more than. ever uses violence to solve disputes, will never be in a position to conduct on the ground of such parliamentarism a principal sustained agitation and propaganda actually preparing the working class to a victorious participation in such “disputes.” The experience of alliances, agreements and blocs with social-reformist liberalism in the West and with liberal reformism (Constitution Democrats) in the Russian revolution, proved conclusively that these agreements only serve to dull the consciousness of the masses. It does not strengthen but weakens the actual significance of their struggle, by binding the fighting masses to elements, least capable to struggle and most vacillating and treacherous. French militarism, the major experience of the application of revisionist political tactics on a broad and actual national scale, gave a practical appraisal of revisionism such as the world proletariat will never forget.

A natural supplement of the economic and political tendencies of revisionism was its position on the final aim of the Socialist movement. “The final aim is nothing, the movement—everything,” such is Bernstein’s pun, which expresses the essence of revisionism better than many long discourses. To define its conduct from circumstance to circumstance; to adjust oneself to the events of the day and to the turns of petty details forgetting the fundamental interests of the proletariat, the basic features of the whole capitalist system and of the whole capitalist development; to sacrifice these vital interests for the sake of real or imaginary advantages of the moment—such is the politics of revisionism. It is evident, from the very essence of this policy, that it will assume an infinite variety of forms, that every more or less “new” problem, every more or less unexpected and unforeseen turn of events, although this turn only in a very small degree and for a brief period of time changes the fundamental line of development, will always inevitably call forth various forms of revisionism.

‘Lenin cleans the earth from evil spirits.’

The inevitability of revisionism is conditioned by its class roots in contemporary society. Revisionism is an international phenomenon. There cannot be a shred of doubt for every more or less thinking and informed Socialist that the relations between the orthodox Socialists and the Bernstein group in Germany; the Guesdists and the Jauresists (now particularly the Broussists) in France; the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labor Party in England; of Broukere and Vandervelde in Belgium; of the Integralists and Reformists in Italy; of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in Russia, despite the great diversity of national conditions and historical moments in the present state of all these countries, are all essentially uniform in their differences. “The division” within contemporary international Socialism proceeds now essentially along one line in the different countries of the world, testifying to the tremendous step forward in comparison with what was taking place thirty to forty years ago, when in different countries the struggle was waged between non-uniform tendencies within the single international Socialism. Both the “revisionism from the left,” which appears now in the Latin countries, and “revolutionary syndicalism” are adapting themselves to Marxism by “correcting” it; among others Labriola in Italy, Lagardell in France, are appealing from Marx, the misinterpreted, to Marx, the properly interpreted.

We cannot stop here at the analysis of the ideological contents of this revisionism, which is as yet far from being developed as is the opportunist revisionism; which has not as yet become internationalized; which has not as yet emerged from a single major practical conflict with the Socialist Party in even one country. We, therefore, confine ourselves to that “revisionism from the right” which was described above.

Wherein consists the inevitability of revisionism in the capitalist society? Why is it deeper than the differences of national peculiarities and the degrees of development of capitalism? Because, in every capitalist country there are always to be found side by side with the proletariat the broad strata of petty bourgeoisie and of petty owners. Capitalism was born and is constantly being reborn of petty production. Capitalism inevitably creates anew several “middle strata” (a supplement to the factory, work at home, petty workshops scattered throughout the whole country to supply the demands of large scale industry such as automobile or bicycle production, etc.). These new petty producers are just as inevitably being again thrown out into the ranks of the proletariat. It is, therefore, quite natural that the petty-bourgeois outlook will again and again manifest itself in the ranks of the broad working class parties. It is also natural that it must be so and it will be so until the very day of the proletarian revolution, for it would be a grave error to think that the “full” proletarianization of the majority of the population is necessary in order to realize such a revolution.

‘Lenin – helmsman of the Soviet state’ Leningrad: Ivan Fedorov State Printing House, 1925.

That which we are living through at present, is frequently only ideological; the disputes with the theoretical corrections to Marx. All out, which now breaks out in the practical activities on separate questions in the working class movement, as the tactical differences with the revisionists and the occurring splits on that ground—all that the working class will yet have to live through on a much larger scale, when the proletarian revolution will sharpen all the points of dispute; will concentrate all the differences of opinion on points having the most immediate significance for the determination of the conduct of the masses; and will, in the heat of struggle, compel the separation of friends from foes, casting aside bad allies in order to deliver a decisive blow to the enemy.

The ideological struggle of revolutionary Marxism against revisionism towards the end of the 19th century is only a prelude to the great revolutionary struggles of the proletariat, which is marching forward to the full and final victory of its cause, despite all the vacillations and weaknesses of the petty bourgeoisie.

NOTE: See Bogdanov’s, Bazarov’s and others, Sketches of the Philosophy of Marxism. There is no room here to analyze this book, and I must confine myself to the statement that I will prove in the near future in a series of articles and in a separate booklet, that everything stated in the text about the neo-Kantian revisionists can also be applied in principle to these “new” neo-Humeist and neo-Berkeleyan revisionists. (See, V. I. Lenin, Matezialison and Empirio-Criticism.)

There were a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This ‘The Communist’ was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March, 1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v12n03-mar-1933-communist.pdf

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