[Marxism] Leninism

Daniel Koechlin d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Thu Feb 7 18:37:52 MST 2013

I have a feeling this is going to be a long answer.

 From the mid-1840s onward, there have been several marxisms. Yes, 
several marxisms. What is of interest to historians is not only what 
Marx and Engels actually wrote but the many debates that ensued fromt eh 
1880 to 1940 period, often with major contributors ENTIRELY IGNORANT OF 

Lenin had no idea of the contents of the Grundrisse and a very hazy idea 
of what the 1840s manuscripts contained. The German ideology only came 
out in the

Which means that the central question of What is Marxism ? has been 
answered from the 2nd international to the Comintern through ideologicla 
constructs that included many threads (many of which are not Marxist - 
i.e. Jacobinim). And threfore, "Marxism" can mean quite different 
things, depending on which side of the debate you choose. However, it 
has generaly been recognized that Marx employs a given method in 
explorig social relationships, one that strives to be both "scientific" 
and "dialectical".

So as not to burden this post with obscure past references, I will only 
deal with three topics that are nowadays in the spotlight so to speak.

1) So called "orientalism" (that MArx was Euro-centirst), the thesis 
developed by Said, is quite wrong. Marx wrote in the russian preface to 
Das Kapital that it is not necessary for every country to go through the 
same process of developemnt as ENgland (Capitalist accumulation). He 
madde the same poiint in the Frencfh version of Capital. He also, in his 
notes for a "Universal History of Humanity" which was his pet project in 
the 1870s-1880s (when he got fed up with Das Kapital and started reading 
ethnographic reports instead), strived to show that each society has its 
OWN determinism and that, what Stalinism would later term the five 
stages theory of human history, was bunk. So the orthodox version of the 
historical develooment of mankind from clan to tribe, and from chiefdom 
to state, owes more to the prevalent Darwinianism of the late 19th 
century than to Marx's own thinking.

2) Participation in Parlementarian elections. "The Critique of the Gotha 
program" was written as a personal letter and was not meant to be 
published. German socialists united their two tendancies : MArxism and 
Lassalien socialism (social-democracy). MArx was outraged as he felt the 
Gotha program left out his (MArxist) contribution altogether and that 
the new party was adopting a paternalistic view of workers ("Oh those 
poor exploited workers !") and relying on reforms (better working 
conditions, health care, etc.) instead of creating genuine class 
consciousness. This private letter was largely forgotten, until it 
resurfaced... in France. The French socialists were having abitter 
argument over whether or not to participate in bourgeois elections in 
the 1910s and low and behold the Guedist fraction used the "Critique of 
the Gotha Program" against... revolutionary unionists who were against 
any participation of workers in bourgeois elections. Quite a reversal of 
intent. Yes, workers must participate in Bourgeois politics for their 
force must be felt, but they must strive for genuine Workers' parties. 
REvolutionary unionists (who would later become "Council Communists") 
were all for workers flexing their muscles in the bourgeois politicla 
arena, but they were deeply suspicious of so-called "Workers parties" 
precisey BECAUSE of the German example : they were suscpicious of state 
institutions as a way for Capitalism to "tame" workers' demands. So the 
"Critique of the Gotha Program" is a text that has had quite an 
extraordinary legacy, being used to either criticize parlementarian 
strategies or refute them, but all with one unifying strand : the 
furthering of workers' emancipation and self-managment.
Once Leninism became the new orthodoxy, the §Critique of the Gotha 
Programp was used to serve as a definition of an ideal "Bolshevik" 
party. Quite the opposite of what Marx had intended (IMHO), but then 
after 1917, Moscow shoved that particular interpretation of Marx's 
original personal letter (his "endorsment" of Leninism) into the 
official way Marxism was to be undertood all over the world.

3) Statist socialism. "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon" is another 
text that has been "officialy" interpreted in many very different ways 
within 20th century MArxism. It does contain some of the strongest 
condemnations of "bureaucracy" ever voiced : that is the idea that those 
in power, in the context of a class-ridden society, can improve the lot 
of workers by social engineering, that is getting the working class to 
support the state in its expansionist goals. Of course, in the 1930s, 
this text became a classic Marxist cautionary tale against the dangers 
of fascism. However, in the 1920s, it was used mainly AGAINST the 
Bolsheviks, and they did not much care for it.

All the above three examples are just meant to emphasize the complex, 
historically-bound nature of each understanding of Marx. This is what 
Korsch wanted to emphasize : MArxism is as much a historical construct 
(especially its Leninist variety) than the set of ideas put forward by 
Karl and Friedrich themselves.

If one is to use Marx's methods, this cannot result in the use of an 
ossified "template for building the party".
One has to understand the core of Marx's thought : the concepts of 
alienation, fetishism, class, mode of production, exploitation and 
emancipation and see that they provide the conceptual tools to 
understanding social relationships.

This is not to belittle the achievements of Leninism, which after all 
meant that for the first time the peasant masses of Russia and China 
were welded into a cohesive force. It does however show that Marx was 
onto something when he argued that the "Asiatic mode of production" 
would lead any revolutionary attempts in Russia, India and China (or 
Africa for that matter), onto an accumulation phase that would be 
different from that of Liberal Western Europe. Leninism strongly opposed 
any discussion of the concept of "Asiatic mode of production" and this 
is understandable as Lenin put forward his view of Imperialism. Again 
certain Marxist texts were taboo during the Cold War era.

  Since the late 1990s, MArxism is experiencing something of a 
resurgence in intellectual circles. Marxism, detached from Leninism, is 
seen as a conceptual tool, especially in the sphere of economics. 
However, any attempt to change the existing social conditions must both 
recognize the historic role of Leninism in the class struggle and of 
course go beyond Lenin and emphasize self-management by the workers 
In any case the party-form cannot, in the age of the Internet, achieve 
total control over the workforce without becoming totalitarian and 
censoring horizontal forms of communication in favour of propaganda from 
the top. The development of the forces of production also mean that much 
can now be produced by very little effort, which is proving a great 
strain on profitability within the Capitalist system, but a real 
Communist movement cannot hope to maintain full employment without 
radically rethinking production and distribution roles.
It is my bet that a lot of anti-Leninist Marxist thinkers will again 
become sources of inspiration : Anton Pannenkoek, Rosa Luxemburg, emile 
Pouget, Gorter, Karl Korsch, De Leon, Paul Mattick, Sylvia Pankhurst, 
Otto Rühle, Guy Debord, Castoriadis, Daniel Guerin, ...

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