[Marxism] Pham Binh: why "Leninism" persists

michael yates mikedjyates at msn.com
Thu Feb 7 15:23:07 MST 2013

These comments by Michael Heinrich in his Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital might shed light on this. It is a bit long but worth reading:

For the Social Democratic parties, Marx and Engels constituted a sort of think tank: they engaged in an exchange of letters with various party leaders and wrote articles for the Social Democratic press. They were asked to state their positions concerning the most varied political and scientific questions. Their influence was the greatest within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), founded in 1869, which developed at a particularly rapid pace and soon served as a model for the other parties.

Engels composed a series of popular works for the Social Democracy (the SPD), in partic-ular the so-called Anti-Dühring. The Anti-Dühring and above all the short version Social-ism: Utopian and Scientific, which was translated into many different languages, was among the most widely read texts of the workers' movement in the period before the First World War. Capital, on the other hand, was usually taken note of by only a small minority.  In the Anti-Dühring Engels critically engaged with the ideas of Eugen Dühring, a university lecturer in Berlin. Dühring claimed to have developed a new, comprehensive system of philosophy, political economy, and of socialism, and was able to win an increasing number of adherents in the German Social Democracy.

Dühring's success rested upon a strong desire within the workers' movement for a Weltanschauung or “worldview,” a comprehensive explanation of the world offering an orientation and answers to all questions. After the worst outgrowths of early capitalism had been eliminated and the everyday existence of the wage-dependent class within capitalism was somewhat secure, a specific Social Democratic workers' culture developed: in workers' neighborhoods there emerged workers' sports clubs, workers' choral societies, and workers' education societies. Excluded from the exalted bourgeois society and bourgeois culture, there developed within the working class a parallel everyday life and educational culture that consciously attempted to distance itself from its bourgeois counterpart, but often ended up unconsciously mimicking it. And so it was that at the end of the nineteenth century that August Bebel, the chairman of the SPD over the course of many years, was graciously honored in a manner similar to the way that Kaiser Wilhelm II was honored by the petit-bourgeoisie. Within this climate, there emerged the need for a comprehensive intellectual orientation that could be opposed to the dominant bourgeois values and worldviews, in which the working class played no role or merely a subordinate role.

Insofar as Engels not only criticized Dühring, but also sought to counterpose the “correct” positions of a “scientific socialism,” he laid the foundations for the worldview of Marxism, which was appreciatively taken up in Social Democratic propaganda and further simplified.  This Marxism found its most important representative in Karl Kautsky (1854–1938), who until the First World War was regarded as the leading Marxist theoretician after the death of Engels. What dominated the Social Democracy at the end of the nineteenth century under the name of Marxism consisted of a miscellany of rather schematic conceptions: a crudely knitted materialism, a bourgeois belief in progress, and a few strongly simplified elements of Hegelian philosophy and modular pieces of Marxian terminology combined into simple formulas and explanations of the world. Particularly outstanding characteristics of this popular Marxism were an often rather crude economism (ideology and politics reduced to a direct and conscious transmission of economic interests), as well as a pronounced historical determinism that viewed the end of capitalism and the proletarian revolution as inevitable occurrences. Widespread in the workers’ movement was not Marx's critique of political economy, but rather this “worldview Marxism,” which played above all an identity-constituting role: it revealed one’s place as a worker and socialist, and explained all problems in the simplest way imaginable.
A continuation and further simplification of this worldview Marxism took place within the framework of “Marxism-Leninism.” Lenin (1870–1924), who became after 1914 so influential, was intellectually rooted in worldview Marxism. He openly expressed the exaggerated 
self-confidence of this “Marxism”:

"The teaching of Marx is all-powerful because it is true. It is complete and harmoni-ous, providing men with a consistent view of the universe, which cannot be recon-ciled with any superstition, any reaction, any defense of bourgeois oppression (Lenin, The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism)."

Before 1914, Lenin supported the Social Democratic center around Karl Kautsky against the left wing represented by Rosa Luxemburg (1871–1919). His break with the center came at the beginning of the First World War, when the SPD voted for war credits re-quested by the German government. From then on, the split within the workers' move-ment took its course: A Social Democratic wing that in the next few decades would move further away—both theoretically and practically—from Marxist theory and the goal of transcending capitalism stood opposite a Communist wing that nurtured a Marxist phraseology and revolutionary rhetoric, but existed above all to justify the zigzags in the domestic and foreign policy of the Soviet Union (such as during the Hitler-Stalin pact).

After his death, the Communist wing of the workers' movement turned Lenin into a Marxist Pillar-Saint. His polemical writings, most of which were written within the context of contemporary debates within the workers' movement, were honored as the highest expression of “Marxist science” and were combined with already existing “Marxism” into a dogmatic system of philosophy (Dialectical Materialism), history (Historical Materialism), and political economy: Marxism-Leninism. This variant of worldview Marxism served above all else an identity-constituting role, and in the Soviet Union in particular legitimized the political domination of the Party and suffocated open discussion.

Ideas in general circulation today concerning Marx and Marxian theory—whether these are appraised positively or negatively—are essentially based upon this worldview Marxism.  Readers of the present work might also have certain, seemingly self-evident, ideas concerning Marxian theory that are derived from this worldview Marxism. But the sentiment Marx expressed to his son-in-law Paul Lafargue after the latter gave an account of French “Marxism” also applies to a large amount of that which assumed the label of “Marxism” or “Marxism-Leninism” over the course of the twentieth century: “If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist” (MECW, 46:356). 		 	   		  

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