Marxism and Revisionism

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Thu Oct 26 21:19:36 MDT 2000

Written: Not later than April 3 (16) 1908
Source: Collected Works,Volume15, pp. 29-39
Translated: Andrew Rothstein and Bernard Issacs First Published: 1908,
in symposium Karl Marx -- 1818-1883  Online Version: 1996; 1999
 Transcribed: Zodiac

Marxism and Revisionism

V. Lenin

***Bernstein, a one-time orthodox Marxist, gave his name to this trend
by coming forward with the most noise and with the most purposeful
expression of amendments to Marx, revision of Marx, revisionism. Even in
Russia where -- owing to the economic backwardness of the country and
the preponderance of a peasant population weighed down by the relics of
serfdom -- non-Marxist socialism has naturally held its ground longest
of all, it is plainly passing into revisionism before our very eyes.
Both in the agrarian question (the programme of the municipalisation of
all land) and in general questions of programme and tactics, our
Social-Narodniks are more and more substituting "amendments" to Marx for
the moribund and obsolescent remnants of their old system,
which in its own way was integral and fundamentally hostile to Marxism.

Pre-Marxist socialism has been defeated. It is continuing the struggle,
no longer on its own independent ground, but on the general ground of
Marxism, as revisionism. Let us, then, examine the ideological content
of revisionism.

In the sphere of philosophy revisionism followed in the wake of
bourgeois professorial "science". The professors went "back to Kant" --
and revisionism dragged along after the neo-Kantians. The professors
repeated the platitudes that priests have uttered a thousand times
against philosophical materialism -- and the revisionists, smiling
indulgently, mumbled (word for word after the latest Handbuch) that
materialism had been "refuted" long ago. The professors treated Hegel as
a "dead dog", and while themselves preaching idealism, only an idealism
a thousand times more petty and banal than Hegel's, contemptuously
shrugged their shoulders at dialectics -- and the revisionists
floundered after them into the swamp of philosophical vulgarisation of
science, replacing "artful" (and revolutionary) dialectics by "simple"
(and tranquil) "evolution". The professors earned their official
salaries by adjusting both their idealist and their "critical" systems
to the dominant medieval "philosophy (i.e., to theology) -- and the
revisionists drew close to them, trying to make religion a "private
affair", not in relation to the modern state, but in relation to the
party of the advanced class.

What such "amendments" to Marx really meant in class terms need not be
stated: it is self-evident. We shall
simply note that the only Marxist in the international Social-Democratic
movement to criticise the incredibly
platitudes of the revisionists from the standpoint of consistent
dialectical materialism was Plekhanov. This must be stressed all the
more emphatically since profoundly mistaken attempts are being made at
the present time to smuggle in old and reactionary philosophical rubbish
disguised as a criticism of Plekhanov's tactical opportunism.

Passing to political economy, it must be noted first of all that in this
sphere the "amendments" of the
revisionists were much more comprehensive and circumstantial; attempts
were made to influence the public by  "new data on economic
development". It was said that concentration and the ousting of
small-scale production by large-scale production do not occur in
agriculture at all, while they proceed very slowly in commerce and
industry. It was said that crises had now become rarer and weaker, and
that cartels and trusts would probably  enable capital to eliminate them
altogether. It was said that the "theory of collapse" to which
capitalism is heading was unsound, owing to the tendency of class
antagonisms to become milder and less acute. It was said, finally, that
it would not be amiss to correct Marx's theory of value, too, in
accordance with Bohm-Bawerk.

 The fight against the revisionists on these questions resulted in as
fruitful a revival of the theoretical thought in international socialism
as did Engels' controversy with of the revision Dühring twenty years
earlier. The arguments of the revisionists were analysed with the help
of facts was proved that the revisionists were systematically painting a
rose-coloured picture of modern small-scale production. The technical
and commercial superiority of large-scale production over small-scale
production not only m industry, but also in agriculture, is proved by
irrefutable facts. But commodity production is far less developed in
agriculture, and modern statisticians and economists are, as a rule, not
very skilful in picking out the special branches (sometimes even the
operations) in agriculture which indicate that agriculture is being
progressively drawn into the process of exchange in world economy.
Small-scale production maintains itself on the ruins of natural economy
by constant worsening of diet, by chronic starvation, by lengthening of
the working day, by deterioration in the quality and the care of cattle,
in a word, by the very methods whereby handicraft production maintained
itself against capitalist manufacture. Every advance in science and
technology inevitably and relentlessly undermines the foundations of
small-scale production in capitalist society; and it is the task of
socialist political economy to investigate this process in all its
forms, often complicated and intricate, and to demonstrate to the small
producer the impossibility of his holding his own under capitalism, the
hopelessness of peasant farming under capitalism, and the necessity for
the peasant to adopt the standpoint of the proletarian. On this question
the revisionists sinned, in the scientific sense, by superficial
generalisations based on facts selected one-sidedly and without
reference to the system of capitalism as a whole. From the political
point of view, they sinned by the fact that they inevitably, whether
they wanted to or not, invited or urged the peasant to adopt the
attitude of a small
proprietor (i.e., the attitude of the bourgeoisie) instead of urging him
to adopt the point of view of the
revolutionary proletarian.

The position of revisionism was even worse as regards the theory of
crises and the theory of collapse. Only
for a very short time could people, and then only the most
short-sighted, think of refashioning the foundations of Marx's theory
under the influence of a few years of industrial boom and prosperity.
Realities very soon made it clear to the revisionists that crises were
not a thing of the past: prosperity was followed by a crisis. The forms,
the sequence, the picture of particular crises changed, but crises
remained an inevitable component of the capitalist system. While uniting
production, the cartels and trusts at the same time, and in a way that
was obvious to all, aggravated the anarchy of production, the insecurity
of existence of the proletariat and the oppression of capital, thereby
intensifying class antagonisms to an unprecedented degree. That
capitalism is heading for a  break-down -- in the sense both of
individual political and economic crises and of the complete collapse of
the entire capitalist system -- has been made particularly clear, and on
a particularly large scale, precisely by the new giant trusts. The
recent financial crisis in America and the appalling increase of
unemployment all over Europe, to say nothing of the impending industrial
crisis to which many symptoms are pointing -- all this has resulted in
recent "theories" of the revisionists having been forgotten by
everybody, including, apparently, many of the revisionists themselves.
But the lessons which this instability of the intellectuals had given
the working class must not be forgotten.

As to the theory of value, it need only be said that apart from the
vaguest of hints and sighs, a la Bohm-Bawerk, the revisionists have
contributed absolutely nothing, and have therefore left no traces
whatever on the development of scientific thought.

In the sphere of politics, revisionism did really try to revise the
foundation of Marxism, namely, the doctrine of the class struggle.
Political freedom, democracy and universal suffrage remove the ground
for the class struggle  -- we were told -- and render untrue the old
proposition of the Communist Manifesto that the working men have no
country. For, they said, since the "will of the majority" prevails in a
democracy, one must neither regard the state as an organ of class rule,
nor reject alliances with the progressive, social-reform bourgeoisie
against the

It cannot be disputed that these arguments of the revisionists amounted
to a fairly well-balanced system of views, namely, the old and
well-known liberal-bourgeois views. The liberals have always said that
bourgeois parliamentarism destroys classes and class divisions, since
the right to vote and the right to participate in the government of the
country are shared by all citizens without distinction. The whole
history of Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the
whole history of the Russian revolution in the early twentieth,  clearly
show how absurd such views are. Economic distinctions are not mitigated
but aggravated and intensified under the freedom of "democratic"
capitalism. Parliamentarism does not eliminate, but lays bare the innate
character even of the most democratic bourgeois republics as organs of
class oppression. By helping to enlighten
and to organise immeasurably wider masses of the population than those
which previously took an active part in political events,
parliamentarism does not make for the elimination of crises and
political revolutions, but for the maximum intensification of civil war
during such revolutions. The events in Paris in the spring of 1871 and
the events in Russia in the winter of 1905 showed as clearly as could be
how inevitably this intensification comes about. The French bourgeoisie
without a moment's hesitation made a deal with the enemy of the whole
nation, with the foreign army which had ruined its country, in order to
crush the proletarian movement Whoever does not understand the
inevitable inner dialectics of parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy
-- which leads to an even sharper decision of the argument by mass
violence than formerly -- will never be able on the basis of this
parliamentarism to conduct propaganda and agitation consistent in
principle, really preparing the working-class masses for victorious
participation in such "arguments". The experience of alliances,
agreements and blocs withthe social-reform liberals in the West and with
the liberal reformists (Cadets) in the Russian revolution, has
convincingly shown that these agreements only blunt the consciousness of
the masses, that they do not enhance but weaken the actual significance
of their struggle, by linking fighters with elements who are least
capable of fighting and most vacillating and treacherous. Millerandism
in France -- the biggest experiment in applying revisionist political
tactics on a wide, a really national scale -- has provided a practical
appraisal of revisionism that will never be forgotten by the proletariat
all over the world.

A natural complement to the economic and political tendencies of
revisionism was its attitude to the ultimate aim of the socialist
movement. "The movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing" --
this catch-phrase of Bernstein's expresses the substance of revisionism
better than many long disquisitions. To determine its conduct from case
to case, to adapt itself to the events of the day and to the chopping
and changing of petty politics, to forget the primary interests of the
proletariat and the basic features of the whole capitalist system, of
all capitalist
evolution, to sacrifice these primary interests for the real or assumed
advantages of the moment -- such is the policy of revisionism. And it
patently follows from the very nature of this policy that it may assume
an infinite variety of forms, and that every more or less "new"
question, every more or less unexpected and unforeseen turn  of events,
even though it change the basic line of development only to an
insignificant degree and only for the briefest period, will always
inevitably give rise to one variety of revisionism or another.

The inevitability of revisionism is determined by its class roots in
modern society. Revisionism is an
international phenomenon. No thinking socialist who is in the least
informed can have the slightest doubt that the relation between the
orthodox and the Bernsteinians in Germany, the Guesdists and the
Jauresists (and now  particularly the Broussists) in France, the Social
Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party in Great Britain,
Brouckere and Vandervelde in Belgium, the Integralists and the
Reformists in Italy, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in Russia, is
everywhere essentially similar, notwithstanding the immense variety of
conditions and historical factors in the present state of all these
countries. In reality, the "devision" within the
present international socialist movement is now proceeding along the
same lines in all the various countries of the world, which testifies to
a tremendous advance compared with thirty or forty years ago, when
heterogeneous trends in the various countries were struggling within the
one international socialist movement. And that "revisionism from the
left" which has taken shape in the Latin countries as "revolutionary
syndicalism", is also adapting itself to Marxism, "amending" it:
Labriola in Italy and Lagardelle in France frequently appeal from Marx
who is understood wrongly to Marx who is understood rightly.

We cannot stop here to analyse the ideological content of this
revisionism, which as yet is far from having
developed to the same extent as opportunist revisionism: it has not yet
become international, has not yet stood the test of a single big
practical battle with a socialist party in any single country. We
confine ourselves therefore to that "revisionism from the right" which
was described above.

Wherein lies its inevitability in capitalist society? Why is it more
profound than the differences of national
peculiarities and of degrees of capitalist development? Because in every
capitalist country, side by side with the proletariat, there are always
broad strata of the petty bourgeoisie, small proprietors. Capitalism
arose and is constantly arising out of small production. A number of new
"middle strata" are inevitably brought into existence again and again by
capitalism (appendages to the factory, work at home, small workshops
scattered all over the country to meet the requirements of big
industries, such as the bicycle and automobile industries, etc.). These
new small producers are just as inevitably being cast again into the
ranks of the proletariat. It is quite natural that
the petty-bourgeois world-outlook should again and again crop up in the
ranks of the broad workers' parties. It is quite natural that this
should be so and always will be so, right up to the changes of fortune
that will take place in the proletarian revolution. For it would be a
profound mistake to think that the "complete" proletarianisation of the
majority of the population is essential for bringing about such a
revolution. What we now frequently experience only in the domain of
ideology, namely, disputes over theoretical amendments to Marx; what now
crops up in practice only over individual side issues of the labour
movement, as tactical differences with the
revisionists and splits on this basis -- is bound to be experienced by
the working class on an incomparably larger scale when the proletarian
revolution will sharpen all disputed issues, will focus all differences
on points which are of the most immediate importance in determining the
conduct of the masses, and will make it necessary in the heat of the
fight to distinguish enemies from friends, and to cast out bad allies in
order to deal decisive blows at the enemy.

The ideological struggle waged by revolutionary Marxism against
revisionism at the end of the nineteenth century is but the prelude to
the great revolutionary battles of the proletariat, which is marching
forward to the complete victory of its cause despite all the waverings
and weaknesses of the petty bourgeoisie.

       Vl. Ilyin


      [1] See Studies in the Philosophy of Marxism by Bogdanov, Bazarov
and others. This is not the place to
      discuss the book, and I must at present confine myself to stating
that in the very near future I shall prove in a
      series of articles, or in a separate pamphlet, that everything I
have said in the text about neo-Kantian revisionists  essentially
applies also to these "new" neo-Humist and neo-Berkeleyan revisionists.


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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